Tom Rob Smith
A CBS Company
Until the moment he received a frantic call from his father, Daniel believed his parents were headed into a peaceful, well-deserved retirement. They had sold their home and business in London, and said “farewell to England” with a cheerful party where all their friends had gathered to wish them well on their great adventure: setting off to begin life anew on a remote, bucolic farm in rural Sweden.
But with that phone call, everything changes. Your mother’s not well, his father tells him. She’s been imagining things–terrible, terrible things. She’s had a psychotic breakdown, and has been committed to a mental hospital.
Daniel prepares to rush to Sweden, on the first available flight the next day. Before he can board the plane, his father contacts him again with even more frightening news: his mother has been released from the hospital, and he doesn’t know where she is.
Then, he hears from his mother:
I’m sure your father has spoken to you. Everything that man has told you is a lie. I’m not mad. I don’t need a doctor. I need the police. I’m about to board a flight to London. Meet me at Heathrow.
Caught between his parents, and unsure of who to believe or trust, Daniel becomes his mother’s unwilling judge and jury as she tells him an urgent tale of secrets, of lies, of a horrible crime and a conspiracy that implicates his own father.
This was a very compelling and thought provoking read that defies you to place it in a neat box – it is part psychological thriller, it is part contemporary fiction, part crime fiction. Time wise it defies you to tie it down to just one point of reference; it is about the present, it is about the immediate past (the past few months) and it is about a life time ago; 1963 when Daniel’s mother was a sixteen year old girl. Settings swap between rural Sweden and busy London. This is a difficult read to categorise and that adds to its charm.
This novel will have you questioning everything you think know about self, family, personal history… of memories, whose version of our life do we carry with us? What lies do we live with and do we tell? This is an intriguing narrative. When there is conflict/relationship break down in a family whose side do we chose? Indeed do we need to choose? In this instance it is apparent that we need to, or rather Daniel needs to, and his mother says she will disown him if he does not commit fully to her story. She is unbending – it is an all or nothing decision. How often do we hear this story in family breakdowns? How do the children ( even an adult child in this case) cope?
This is a complex novel that picks at an emotional scab revealing new wounds and old scars. Gender discrimination and power imbalances are laid open. Bullying, in the home, the community and in the vestibules of all places of male dominated infrastructure / hierarchies are laid bare for all to examine or at least to acknowledge. The issue of sexual abuse is eventually teased out into the open. This is a very intense read.
And lastly we but not least we get to inspect and consider the issues of mental health from a victims perspective; how the sins of the past affect the present and how small mental injuries – social snubs, gossip, exclusive behaviours, conjure up sinister intent. The signs are all around us if we want to read them.
And this is a well written, tightly constructed novel that is not without hope. A compelling read.