Kept In The Dark, Nina Bawden, 1984

Creepy Fat Young Man


Kept in the Dark is a rare (at least back in 1984) psychological thriller aimed for teens and pre-teens. Noel, 14, Clara, 12, and Bosie, 10, have to leave their London home behind at least for a while when their father, who is an actor in theater and TV, suffers a mental breakdown and must check into an institution to seek help. Their mother is unable to provide for them on her own so the children move to the countryside to live with their wealthy maternal grandparents until their father gets better. Their grandmother is little kooky herself and their grandpa a grumpy old war ax who has never accepted her daughter’s husband due to his acting profession. The stately but decaying mansion, which the children are supposed to call their home for time being, fascinate vivid imaginations of the three. Especially young Bosie’s who finds all kinds of rather mundane but possibly threatening things from its mostly unused rooms, like an old WWII era revolver in a secret compartment of an old desk.

Kept in the Dark’s strength is in this viewpoint of a child, things can look exciting or threatening when the true, grown up meaning is left to speculation. Especially when adults are constantly hiding things and talk about them only between themselves with hushed tones. One thing is particularly kept in the dark is David, twenty-something, overweight drifter, whom Bosie finds one morning sleeping in a pavilion of the overgrown garden but who in reality is grandpa’s nephew. David comes inside the house and without further ado takes the control of the household. The trusted housekeeper is fired, David uses his grandfather’s Bentley like his own, buys expensive roller skates and motorcyclists leather suit, which does not flatter his figure. David’s obesity is almost a plot point that I’ve seen mentioned in all reviews of this book, it is not often when we see an overweight young man in books, in most cases, they only come as bullied childhood sidekicks or leering perverts or corrupt German lieutenants.

In no time, brash David begins to suck the life out of the other, feisty grandfather turns ashy, grandmother stops eating and does not leave her room and the old family dog begins to smell. Noel has suspected and shunned David from the start and although Bosie and Clara were initially under David’s spell, Noel soon gets their to support. I find it quite refreshing that this time there is not a long and frustrating period in which one person is trying in vain to convince others that a popular character is up to no good. Ownership of the revolver found in a secret compartment of the writing table becomes a burning issue.

The viewpoint of a child with lively imagination prevails until the (happy) ending when David has hit the road again and life instantly looks brighter. There is a relieved atmosphere at the dinner table but Bosie and Clara wonder what exactly happened and why, as David’s mysterious grip on the grandparents is never really explained. But as Clara says, “Adults always hide all the exciting things.”

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