Author: Kristian Novak
Title: Dark Mother Earth
Plot: As a novelist, Matija makes things up for a living. Not yet thirty, he’s written two well-received books. It’s his third that is as big a failure as his private life. Unable to confine his fabrications to fiction, he’s been abandoned by his girlfriend over his lies. But all Matija has is invention. Especially when it comes to his childhood and the death of his father. Whatever happened to Matija as a young boy, he can’t remember. He feels frightened, angry, and responsible…
Now, after years of burying and reinventing his past, Matija must confront it. Longing for connection, he might even win back the love of his life. But discovering the profound fears he has suppressed has its risks. Finally seeing the real world he emerged from could upend it all over again.
I received Dark Mother Earth from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
Dark Mother Earth caught my attention because the synopsis indicates the narrator is an author. I always find books of that style to be engaging and enjoyable, regardless of the genre.
This one left me feeling uneasy. While there are a lot of names in the book, there are very few characters. The narrator, Matija, is the only one we get any insight into – and nothing is as it seems with his unreliable recollection of his past and his need to lie to protect himself from horrors he may or may not have imagined.
Dark Mother Earth is dark. Way darker than I was anticipating. It should come with various trigger warnings: suicide, dealing with grief and child abuse being the main ones. Not having any pre-conceptions meant these themes were shocking and unsettling for the reader and it left me distanced and removed from the plot.
The plot is split into three: Matija as a grown man, struggling to find his muse again after his girlfriend left him due to the lies; a young child grieving the loss of his father and unable to accept death; and an older boy struggling to make friends and find his place in the world.
I could hardly wait to be older, when one morning I’d get up and the whole world would finally make sense.
You know from the start that Matija is not a reliable source of information: he’s a compulsive liar. But this obsession goes much deeper – and darker – than spinning a few untruths. His childhood story is haunted by imaginary creatures that stalk and terrify him. The suicides spreading throughout the village are a mystery to all but Matija – whose source of information is two make-believe friends-turned-enemies who give him all the details – details no child should be privy to.
I finished the book feeling unsettled and, if I’m honest, disturbed. The slow-moving pace means you’re taken along for the ride: the discomfort and fear a young Matija feels is experienced by the reader as well because the plot dwells on these incidents, ensuring Matija is isolated from his friends and village and creating in the reader the same feeling of detachment.
But – now I’m writing this review – I’m realising there are many levels to this book and the narration is clever in a chilling way the more you think about it. All of Matija’s inside knowledge matches the little you know about the characters from how they present themselves to the rest of the world. Technically, the information comes from an imaginary source, begging the question of how Matija knows all of this: is his mind still protecting him from even darker events in his past by inventing these creatures? Is he making it up? Is it even true, or the wild imagination of a disturbed little boy?
You’re suddenly left with the realisation that what is presented as the truth stems from a figment of Matija’s imagination. You know from the start Matija is an unreliable narrator, but only upon reflection have I realised there is no way of telling if any of it was real.