I keep vowing to stop reading books about parenting. I realise actual parents probably enjoy them and can definitely relate; but the mummy (mommy) wars and good vs bad parenting dilemma aren’t really high on my relevance agenda. Having said that, I do read a lot of books about sociopaths damaged by bad parenting, so…. I guess there’s that.
As it happens, I decided to read Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan however because I’d read and enjoyed a previous novel, Anatomy of a Scandal, by the former political reporter.
by Sarah Vaughan
Published by Simon & Schuster AU
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: Women's Fiction
Liz Trenchard is an experienced pediatrician with a duty to protect all children admitted to her busy emergency room.
When Jess Curtis, an affluent, stay-at-home mother, turns up at the ER one night with her baby girl, she immediately prompts suspicion. The ten-month-old has a blow to the head her mother doesn’t seem to have noticed, and Jess has a story that doesn’t stack up.
Meanwhile, Liz is riddled with doubt as she confronts secrets held by her mother, whose neglect not only led to a childhood tragedy involving her brother but raises questions about another baby Liz half-remembers from thirty-five years ago.
The book unfolds from several points of view: Liz, Jess and (Jess’s husband) Ed. It also features a woman in the prologue which could be Jess. But equally could be Liz. Or someone else.
What the blurb here doesn’t tell you is that Liz and Jess are friends, having met in a pre-natal class a decade earlier when pregnant with their first children.
Liz is predominantly our narrator and much of the story takes place through her eyes. Vaughan visits a few different timelines and past events here, adding context to unfolding drama.
I really liked Liz and she’s very torn when it comes to the allegations against Jess. It seems almost impossible to her that the over-protective (almost over-zealous) Jess (ie. the perfect mother) is capable of harming her child. Though she knows that parents pushed to the edge do things they often regret.
I didn’t feel we got to know Jess that well and it’s probably because she’s not being entirely truthful with us so Vaughan has to hold off as long as possible before revealing too much. I felt the ‘what happened’ was a bit obvious and guessed early on, however there’s a twist at the end I didn’t see coming. (And must say it felt a little like an afterthought.)
Ed is an interesting character. On one hand he’s blunt about what he perceives to be his role (ie. breadwinner) versus that of Jess (ie. taking care of everything to do with the kids).
He does however, seem slightly conflicted about the fact he knows so little about how Jess spends her days or anything about his kids and their routines. Initially I shuddered at his mindset but his inner dialogue and realisation how little a role he’s been playing made him more endearing. Similarly he tells us he’s only just started to understand Jess might not be coping and he feels bad for not recognising it sooner.
So I liked that Vaughan could have made him a complete bastard, but doesn’t go down the black / white route. In fact, it’s probably my favourite part of the book as she does the same with a number of characters on the periphery of our three leads.
This isn’t a thriller or suspenseful. There’s a hint of intrigue however as Liz, the police, and Ed try to understand what happened to Betsey (other than the ridiculous spelling of her name of course!).
Instead it offers some insight into the lives of mothers, fathers, relationships and the legacies of our original families. (The sins of the father. Or mother etc.)
Liz is grappling with her relationship with her mother and events of the past. There’s also a slight reference to Jess’s own childhood and I would have liked a little more on that to better understand her gripping fear and obsessive compulsiveness.
This is an enjoyable book. It would be a good book club book as there are a few moral / ethical dilemmas on offer. And many will relate to several of the support cast and the complex relationships forged between parents of young children and how they’re tested by events such as those in this book.
Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan was published in Australia by Simon & Schuster and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.