With images of Netflix’s Orange is the New Black fresh in mind, I was immediately drawn to After the Night by Rachel Dax (I admit I mainly associated the two because of lesbians and a women’s prison). Set in Berkshire, England in 1960, Dax takes us to Deepdown women’s prison where Leah Webster begins working as a nurse. It is within her first week at the institution where she meets a woman who forever changes her life.
Upon entering the facility, she is trained by Jean MacFarlane, the Chief Officer of prisoner welfare and supervisor of both the hospital and psychiatric ward. Leah has mixed feelings of her new boss ranging from intimidation, admiration, disgust to something warm, but unfamiliar. In less than a week’s time, Leah’s apparent close-mindedness of homosexuality takes an exciting yet cliché turn to realizing she might be a lesbian herself. Though Dax delivers much detail of every emotion and interaction from Leah and Jean’s perspective, the romance seems to be moving at a hasty rate. It is frustrating that the women hardly know one another but are quick to say the three words one can never take back.
I admit I initially did not care for Leah’s personality. She bothered me with her naivety and by succumbing to public opinion at times. The romance also seemed inevitable and predictable. I would have taken their relationship more seriously had there been more time, perhaps spanning over a few months at least, before taking big steps in their commitment of one another.
It was not until I was a third into the book that I really got excited about the material I was reading. Once I allowed myself to be absorbed into the story, it was hard to put the book down. Despite my few grievances, the more I read, the more interested I became in wanting to know what will happen when Leah’s family finds out she is not who they think she is. I was anxious to know how the women will adjust to the other’s reactions and what their ultimate “labeling” decision would be. I appreciated all of the prison side-happenings Dax included, as they added to development of the protagonists’ relationship.
The prison provides a fascinating setting for the characters to develop as many instances give us insight into why Leah and Jean are afraid to admit their true selves. Though women’s prisons are an easy environment for women, both those naturally drawn to the same sex and those curious, to get involved with one another, there is still much hostility towards lesbians. This is observed through staff’s behavior, inmate conversations, and bullying. Granted many places around the world are becoming more open about homosexuality in today’s world, it proved appropriate to include negative societal views to allow the story more integrity.
If you are looking for a newly lesbian romance, characters dealing with hardships and stereotypes, and a prison atmosphere, I recommend reading After the Night by Rachel Dax.
Reviewed by Danielle Ferriola, March 10, 2014