Pitch Dark by Renata Adler


Pitch Dark was a tough read, and I almost put it aside after reading ten pages. The only thing that kept me going is Renata Adler’s eloquent prose – I did not want to and could not miss out on that! At the end, I was glad I did not give up on it too soon.

We were running flat out. The opening was dazzling. The middle was dazzling. The ending was dazzling. It was like a steeplechase composed entirely of hurdles.

But that would not be a steeplechase at all. It would be more like a steep, steep climb.

With above lines begin Pitch Dark; the story of Kate Ennis. Kate Ennis, the narrator of the novel has been having an affair for eight years with Jake, a married man with children. Pitch Dark, however, is not a romance. Nor does it follow the conventional linear pattern of story-telling for this affair (or as Graham Greene would put, The End of the Affair!). Instead, it is told in bits and pieces. The way Muriel Sparks puts it in her afterword, “you have to read between the lines and snatch at hints and fragments until the whole become clear.”

In Pitch Dark, Kate, the ‘only giver’ in her relationship with Jake, is at first contemplating separating from him, who has arranged his life in a way that all the joyous parts of his life are things that have nothing to do with her. We see many instances where Jake broke Kate’s heart. Nevertheless, even after she makes up her mind and flees to Ireland, she can not stop feeling frail and keeps asking herself, “Did I throw the most important thing perhaps, by accident, away?” The heart-breaking way Kate muses about Jake, “You were the nearest thing to a real story to happen in my life” makes her plight feel real. The central section of the novel hints that Kate’s narration might actually be overlapping with author’s own experiences, and although it is for a brief moment, it might explain the honesty and rawness of emotions.

Because of the fragmented writing style, Pitch Dark reads like a collage of memories. Kate Ennis is a journalist (just like Renata Adler), and her observations written into these ‘episodes’ are quite candid. More than the affair itself, it is those anecdotes that truly stayed with me. This bit is about a raccoon that comes to Kate’s old barn seeking shelter.

… But because, on every subsequent evening, he stayed longer and left less abruptly; because he returned most nights, and slouched, on the stove, leaning against the stove-pipe, all night, until morning: because he sometimes touched, though rarely, the water I left in a dish beside the stove for him; because he was, after all, a wild thing growing ever more docile; we arrived at our misunderstanding. I thought he was growing to trust me, when in fact he was dying. So are we all, of course. But we do not normally mistake progressions of weakness, the loss of the simple capacity to escape, for the onset of love.

Even though the writing is phenomenal, I must admit I do not believe this novel is for everyone. But if you decide to read this, make sure you have enough time to read it in a single sitting (it is short with 150 pages) so the jumbled narration won’t put you off.

As for me, I believe Pitch Dark is a novel that warrants a re-read. 🙂



  1. It sounds like this was well worth sticking with! I’d like to try and give this a read at some point, but I’ll take your advice and wait till I have time to read it in one sitting 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh, it was! I am glad I read it till the end. 🙂


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