Dark Windows is set in a re-imagined South Africa where the Gaia Peace movement (previously the Green Party) defeated Mbeki and have been in power for ten years. People who lived through the early nineties and the “first transition” are still alive. It is a political thriller set in Johannesburg that uses great ingenuity to comment on South Africa as well as the propensity within human nature to rebel against restrictions. Simultaneously it is a thriller where mysterious and sinister events are investigated and uncovered. The different interconnected threads that comprise the narrative may sound complex but due to the skill of the writer, they are easy to follow.
Jay is painting the windows black in a Bedford Centre office. He performs random jobs for Lang, who he first encountered in the army back in the early nineties. Lang is now a senior aide in Gaia Peace, the government of the day, headed up by two ageing hippy activists. South Africa has been radically transformed. The changes are drip fed to the reader as the narrative unfolds. This imparts the impression that the reader lives in this world and already knows these things.
Imagine a world where smoking grass is “officially encouraged”, psychotherapists and psychiatrists have been de-listed and converted to massage therapists, universities teach Iridology and Group Wellness, alternative healing methods are the order of the day and medication is frowned upon. Everything we experience today is subverted, for example, people are expected to reduce security measures – no alarms, burglar guards or locks – and crime has reduced radically. According to Wikipedia, “the mythical Gaia was the primal Greek goddess personifying the Earth, the Greek version of “Mother Nature”, or the Earth Mother”. While I am not sure that the writer drew on this in naming Gaia Peace, it certainly fits.
Beth, a bored housewife neglected by her husband is having a steamy affair with the rather jaded Jay. Jay is on probation and has to attend “re-calibration” sessions with Michelle, a former psychotherapist. The treatment will “calibrate his corporeal desires with the will of the universe”. Jay thinks this is a lot of mumbo jumbo but he has learnt to accept the inevitable. He is an intriguing though nihilistic character who does not understand why his life seems so mundane and wonders if “decline happens inconspicuously”; he enjoys Beth because of her edge and the fact that she knows nothing about his life. His interior thoughts are fascinating as he morosely reflects on his life. In time, the reason for his being placed on probation is revealed.
Beth accompanies him to the second site where he has to paint more windows black. He becomes uneasy about this project once he realizes that the rooms he is painting have all been recently vacated due to the death of the occupant. Lang will not divulge any information to him. This second room is in a student digs. Beth is disturbed when she discovers that two students died in this room, ostensibly both suicides. She takes it upon herself to investigate this further and when she comes across an “overt anti-colour movement on campus” she is intrigued that they would risk such a dangerous move. They all wear grey in a world where colour is compulsory. Grey is usually a colour students would avoid, as it was previously associated with the imposed uniformity of school. Beth’s search to uncover the truth behind this movement leads her into danger.
At the same time, Lang himself is trying to find out more about this project; he questions Minister Hewitt who is reluctant to confide in him, probably because she fears his skepticism. Rightly so, it would seem. He is a man who obeys orders without questioning but he is disturbed to discover that a certain renowned pop culture self-styled guru is influencing Hewitt. Suddenly security issues are raising their head too. An organization called Right to Fight holds meetings protesting, “residential security reduction” where they insist that, “with concerted effort, we can unseat them in their heartland”. This is amusing as it sounds suspiciously like the sort of rhetoric we hear on a daily basis. Satire is constantly at play as people, politics and systems are lampooned.
The action is fast, the dialogue is real and the different story strands intersect until some of the mysteries are solved. The ending is a little up in the air but perhaps this leaves some room for the reader to conjecture. As much as this novel is a thriller and satisfies these expectations with suspense, mystery and intrigue, it is the imagined world that the writer has created that sets this novel apart. It is an ingenious creation, which at face value might seem far-fetched, that is entirely credible.