At the height of the Troubles, one would think that any normal people would keep their heads down and wait for a lull in the general violence. But in J.M. Hewitt’s short novel, The Hunger Within, five people get so tangled up in each others’ misery and anger that it’s just a matter of time before someone ends up dead.
The novel opens with Bronwyn’s husband Danny heading out late one night. She knows he’s involved with the Irish Republican Army, but doesn’t say anything. She’s too weary of her dull, barren life to take much notice of anything that’s going on around her. The next thing we know, a mixed religion couple (something much frowned upon in 1981 in Belfast) is attacked in the street. Protestant Connor is—fortunately for him—unsuccessfully kneecapped. His Catholic girlfriend, Rose, is not physically harmed, but she is deeply shaken by the attack and the fact that their secret is out.
Almost immediately, Danny is sent to the Maze for his crime, just in time to volunteer for the hunger strike. Danny is, curiously, the only first person narrator in The Hunger Within. We get a ring side view as he starts to starve himself to death. He is not repentant about shooting Connor or any of the crimes he must have committed for the IRA. The only thing he regrets is being away from Bronwyn and the mess he helped make of their marriage.
I found in strange that Danny would be a first person narrator when most of the action centers on Bronwyn, Rose, and Connor’s mother, Mary. Once Rose moves in with Connor and Mary, Mary begins a gaslighting campaign to get rid of the girl. Mary goes so far as to agree to Danny’s request that she get Bronwyn to visit her husband if he will help her get Rose to leave. (Mary initially visited just to meet the man who shot her son and maybe find out why he did it.) Meanwhile, Bronwyn struggles with a sudden miscarriage and past due bills.
Mary and Danny are the only characters who know the full story of what’s going on. Bronwyn, Rose, and Connor are very much in the dark. As things escalate with Mary taking advantage of Danny’s IRA connections, any reader can see that someone (probably more than one someone) is going to get killed. Though short, I found The Hunger Within to be a rather satisfying thriller (even if I don’t fully understand some of Hewitt’s decisions).
I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley for review consideration.