I enjoyed this book far more than I expected. Which is weird because – in reality – I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect from this book. The backcover blurb didn’t really give me any insight into the ‘type’ of novel I was going to be reading. I’m not sure that should matter and (thankfully) as it happened, it didn’t.
The Lone Child
by Anna George
Published by Penguin Books Australia
on July 31st 2017
Source: Penguin Random House Australia
Genres: General Fiction, Psychological Thriller
Neve Ayres has always been so careful. Since her mother’s death when Neve was seven, she’s learned to look after herself and to keep her cards close. But now her deliberately constructed world has collapsed: her partner’s left her when she was eight months pregnant. And so, alone with her newborn son, she’s retreated to her cliff-top holiday house in coastal Flinders.
There, another child comes into her life.
The first time Neve sees Jessie, the small girl is playing on an empty stretch of beach. On the cold autumn day, she is bare-legged and alone, while her mother is distracted by her own troubles. At once, almost despite herself, Neve is intrigued and concerned, and Jessie is drawn to Neve’s kindness – and to her home.
To Neve’s surprise, Jessie becomes an unlikely source of much needed care for her and her baby. Having been lost in the sleepless haze of new motherhood, Neve is touched, and finds herself grappling with how to best help the forgotten girl. She has the spacious house, the full pantry, the resources . . . But how much can you – should you – do for a stranger’s child?
I’m a lover of thrillers and mysteries and I knew this wasn’t going to be that sort of book. Although there was an element of suspense as we’re uncertain as to how things will play out. And – of course – there’s a twist or two at the end that I really did not see coming.
Neve is an interesting protagonist. She’s had both a challenging and privileged life. She lost her mother when she was very young (and we later learn there’s more to that story) and grew up in relative wealth…. although we learn her father was a bit of a shyster and left a trail of broke investors and debts when he fled overseas.
When we meet Neve, her baby Cliff is just 6 weeks old and she’s really struggling. She’s counting down the days and weeks until her maternity leave is over and she can return to work and escape from the child with whom she’s struggling to bond.
Lately, she’d begun to dread the days as much as the nights. In any given hour, her only objective was survival. His and hers. It was both too much and too little. p 41
We learn pretty quickly that she broke up with her child’s father – who went back to his wife – only a month before she was due to give birth and has no other friends or family for support. I guess I might have liked a little more context in terms of how Neve went from a motherless 7yr old to a 39yr old with few friends and a kind, though seemingly exacting and frosty demeanour.
However, George does a great job at putting us in Neve’s head – though the book’s written in third person. We know that she expected things to be different with motherhood and she’s unhappy (and slightly uncomprehending) at the turn her life’s taken.
George also puts us in the head of Leah, the mother of (Jessie) the child Neve meets at the beach. It wasn’t until I was writing this that I realised the book is almost as much about Leah’s story as it is about Neve’s. I probably would have liked a little more context re Leah and her husband’s break-up. Thankfully though George shies away from cliches and we’re not offered a bad single mother up on a platter. Leah’s story is complicated and I was interested in the glimpses we were offered as there’s a lesson there about how quickly things can turn south.
And finally there’s Sal a local stonemason who’s recently lost his mother and who comes into Neve’s life over the tumultuous Easter weekend.
I very much enjoyed George’s addictively beautiful prose and elegant phrasing: the way George describes Neve’s initial perception of Jessie (for example)… that she was ‘struck by the girl’s otherness….’ (p 5)
She paused, transfixed by the simple beauty of light. A moment later, a figure danced across the spotlit sand. Bare-legged and tiny. It was draped in ropes of weed and swirling, making the tendrils fly. A lone child: resplendent, ethereal, lit up. p 4
I also enjoyed the way in which George keeps we readers guessing, not exactly able to trust our expectations and / or our narrators – something I appreciated about the Aussie’s debut novel, What Came Before – which I read and reviewed in 2014 – and which kinda starts with one the main characters confessing to killing his wife (the other main character in the novel).
The twists near the end took me by surprise and required a bit of contemplation in retrospect.
There’s a strong sense of sorrow and loss littered throughout this novel. As well as an underlying theme of vulnerability… and the extent to which we allow ourselves to accept our frailties. And what happens if or when we don’t.
The Lone Child by Anna George was published in Australia by Penguin Random House and is now available.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.