I very much enjoyed The Gosling Girl by Jacqueline Roy so it meant my reading year started with a bang. In fact I thought this was very nearly a 4.5 or 5 star read. (Which are rarities in my little harsh-rating-system world.) I suspect I’ve marked it down a little because I was waiting for something that didn’t come… something that would have given me a little more insight. A little more understanding. Which of course, may say more about my need to know than it does about the book itself. Not to mention my expectations of characters’ depravity or otherwise. While others may well have complained if it went further.
The Gosling Girl
by Jacqueline Roy
Published by Simon & Schuster
Source: Simon & Schuster
Genres: Thriller / Suspense
Michelle Cameron’s name is associated with the most abhorrent of crimes. A child who lured a younger child away from her parents and to her death, she is known as the black girl who murdered a little white girl; evil incarnate according to the media.
As the book opens, she has done her time, and has been released as a young woman with a new identity to start her life again.
But when one of her new friends, Lucy, is found dead in her flat, Michelle is the first in the frame. Brought into the police station to answer questions around Lucy’s suspicious death, it is only a matter of time until the press find out who she is now and where she lives and set about destroying her all over again.
Natalie Tyler is the officer brought in to investigate the murder. A senior black police officer, she has been ostracised from her family and often feels she is in the wrong job. But when she meets Michelle, she feels a complicated need to protect her, whatever she might have done.
We meet Michelle (albeit with a new identity) after she’s left prison. She’s been out for a while but Roy introduces her at a time when her life is about to change. She’s been treading water, not coping well with being ‘outside’ and fearful her life may never return to normal.
But then she finds a job. And a friend. But when that friend Lucy dies Michelle’s questioned by police and her cover is blown. She’s already started revisiting her past with Zoe Laing , a psychologist keen to write the story of the death of 4 year old Kerry and Michelle’s role in it. (Not to mention what came before and after.) And now Michelle’s been outed she realises she won’t escape the actions of her 10 year old self.
Roy focuses on Michelle’s lack of self-recrimination or guilt. Her stay in detention was extended because she refused to talk about the murder… to offer explanation or seek redemption. And now it seems that any regret she has [about the crime] relates more to how it’s impacted on her rather than the fact a child was killed and family destroyed.
Roy portrays Michelle sympathetically but also objectively. We’re in Michelle’s head so we’re privy to her thoughts, feelings and actions and Roy doesn’t stifle or dilute these.
Weirdly the blurb doesn’t talk about one of the three narrators. I felt that Zoe was more present / visible than Natalie. She certainly has more of a pivotal role in the narrative. Natalie’s presence seemed to be less about her role as a police officer and more about her sense she’s betrayed her cultural heritage. I didn’t feel as if I gained much insight into ‘her’.
We get to know Zoe a little better but it was hard to decipher some of her actions. She seemed to realise she’s essentially strong-arming Michelle into interviews but at the same time increasingly committed to her project. I felt frustrated that Zoe – a psychologist – offered no therapeutic advice to Michelle as they discussed her childhood and the events of her life, but I guess that’s a reminder that she was really there for the story. Not Michelle. (And that’s something Michelle learns the hard way.)
I certainly enjoyed this but was left with a few unanswered questions – that I missed or perhaps are kept from us on purpose. More detail on the death of Michelle’s friend Lucy, for example, which is foreshadowed in a way that suggests something sinister, but we’re not really offered any sense of closure. And as for Michelle herself… I expected a twist at the end. We get one, but I’d expected something a little more shocking. A bigger reveal if you like.
I referenced this novel in another book I recently reviewed. 56 Days by Catherine Ryan Howard centres around a man who was involved in a murder as a child. Those he meets in the present cannot imagine he’d have such a tragic and violent past. And of course there’s the obvious questions about the culpability of children and the extent to which they can understand the repercussions of their actions.
This is a very interesting study into crime and punishment. Into rehabilitation and redemption. It wasn’t until I read Roy’s acknowledgements that I realised I’d been expecting a different kind of book. Something more twisty and macabre. Something darker. I think many will appreciate that this is not. Certainly in the current climate. Instead this is more of an observation on institutional racism and the nexus between the child protection and youth justice systems. And how easily young lives can go astray.
The Gosling Girl by Jacqueline Roy was published in Australia by Simon & Schuster and is now available.
I received an advance copy of this book for review purposes.