4 out of 5: In just over 100 pages, Disquiet portrays the deep pain suffered by two women, one from a failed marriage and the other from a lost child. Julia Leigh creates an ominous atmosphere through razor-sharp prose and quietly escalating suspense. Much like a developing horror story, Leigh sets up her story as an intricate diorama that we, as readers, examine from a safe distance. The characters, referred to more often as "the woman" or "the boy" than by their names, remain mysterious and remote. This distance, however, does not reduce the emotional impact of the story. Rather, we feel even more anxious because we are too far away to help or even to fully understand these characters.
Reading Disquiet is much like watching a fully loaded tray of dishes teeter on the edge of a table on the other side of the room. If we could just get there in time, we might avert disaster. But from where we stand, all we can do is watch the collapse. This effect is repeated in small ways throughout the book, such as when "the boy" grapples with an old canoe he discovered in the boathouse:
He lifted one end and tried to look up inside it: a mouse ran out and he let the canoe fall. He tried again, jacking the end up as high as he could, and this time the canoe slid backwards--he struggled, he held it, he held it high, he tried, he struggled to hold it--it clattered to the ground. On reflex, he quickly looked over his shoulder to see if anyone was watching.
Without a doubt, Disquiet is very dark, but there are glimmers of acceptance and redemption that mitigate the bleakness of this unsettling book in the end. A masterful dive into despair.