I was worried I was offering up spoilers by saying Dear Child by Romy Hausmann very much reminded me of Room by Emma Donohue. And then I read the media release and discovered it’s promoted as ‘Gone Girl meets Room’.
It certainly reminded me of Room – initially at least. Of course I’ve read other similar books as the theme of women / children in long-term captivity (having escaped) was pretty popular for a while. (And sadly it seemed fiction was mirroring what we were reading in the newspapers for a while.)
Interestingly this book (originally written in German—translated by Jamie Bulloch—and set in a town near the Czech border) offers something slightly different, as we fairly quickly learn that many of the assumptions we make aren’t—in fact—correct.
by Romy Hausmann
Published by Hachette Australia, Quercus
Source: Hachette Australia
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 9781529401424, 9781529401455
A windowless shack in the woods. Lena's life and that of her two children follows the rules set by their captor, the father: Meals, bathroom visits, study time are strictly scheduled and meticulously observed. He protects his family from the dangers lurking in the outside world and makes sure that his children will always have a mother to look after them.
One day Lena manages to flee - but the nightmare continues. It seems as if her tormentor wants to get back what belongs to him. And then there is the question whether she really is the woman called 'Lena', who disappeared without a trace 14 years ago.
The police and Lena's family are all desperately trying to piece together a puzzle which doesn't quite seem to fit.
I was meant to only read a little of this but ended up reading it in a sitting. (And eating dinner very very late.)
I was hooked from the beginning as it gets off to an addictive (and bewildering) start. I adored 13yr old Hannah who escaped with Lena. We learn she has Aspergers and her head is full of amazing facts and information. She takes everything so literally and is so guilelessly honest that it’s charming. Of course, she does have her secrets and—even as time goes on—she’s reticent to share them, which doesn’t make sense to those trying to help her.
We spend time with the freed Lena and her attempts to make sense of the world now, not to mention the circumstances of her escape. And she finds herself filled with an ongoing sense of trepidation despite the absence of any threat.
And then there’s Matthias, Lena’s father. He’s been counting the days since she disappeared and up to 4,993 days* when he gets news of a woman called Lena being hit by a car and hospitalised. Matthias and her wife (Lena’s mother) Karin have practically given up on finding their daughter after over 13 years. They have hope but try not to voice it.
Of course they’re even more shocked to discover the existence of Hannah, who looks identical to their daughter (at the same age) and then a grandson (Jonathan) as well.
It’s really hard to comment much more on the plot without offering too many spoilers. Needless to say there are many many twists and unanswered questions as we progress. This book is far from predictable and in some ways there’s an awkwardness that’s really appealing. Everything unfolds in such a clunky way (the narrative, rather than the overall plot itself) that it makes it feel very realistic. Re-entering the world after being locked away is obviously going to be challenging but Hausmann offers up some surprising responses – particularly from Lena and Hannah. And of course then there’s Matthias and Karin, trying to accept the ‘new normal’.
I probably would have liked to understand Jonathan (Lena’s son) more. He plays quite a small role, which is understandable, but made me wonder if his character was even required. Although perhaps he’s meant to help us understand his sister.
Hausmann offers up a really clever book here. Although we’ve seen this story before, here we sometimes struggle to sympathise with those we should and can’t quite pinpoint the source of our unease. And this means the pace and suspense continues to the very end.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.
* Weirdly – 4993 days in the print copy of the book but 4825 in the electronic copy I received. The pedantic obsessive freak in me is wondering why the difference…