Review published on October 19, 2016.
The impact of interpersonal abuse and trauma profoundly changes the lives of those it affects; it changes the individual’s relationship with themselves, with others and with the world in which they live. Can a novel convincingly show us what it’s really like? Michael J. Malone makes a departure from the world of Tartan Noir to give us this gripping thriller which explores this complex, dark and taboo facet of human experience.
Andy Boyd is grieving the death of his first wife when an encounter with the beautiful Anna, delivers a second chance for happiness. He doesn’t know that she was the victim of childhood trauma. Anna is refulgent with self-loathing and seeks redemption through motherhood. She bonds instantly with Andy’s bereft son Pat and, despite his mother’s warnings, within months, they become a new family. Immediately Anna’s troubled past manifests itself; she is consumed by demonic bouts of insecurity which result in unpredictable, intermittent, but increasing violence. The triumph of Malone’s book is that he delivers an uncompromising, unsettling and unsentimental view of interpersonal abuse. Andy’s journey from everyman to victim is believable; his increasing sense of powerlessness feels real and evokes anger towards Anna’s behaviour and, at times, his passivity. The author clearly understands this difficult territory and he uses his cast to tremendous effect. Abuse is a complex phenomenon and in the lives of the characters the theme becomes three-dimensional.
Anna is perpetrator and victim and in her attempt to be a good mother she tries to rescue the damaged part of herself. While we learn only a little of her past, Anna’s story also speaks to the multi-generational nature of abuse. This idea is developed through the impact on Pat and his half-brother, who witness Anna’s assaults on their father. There are no special qualifications to becoming a victim and Andy’s story exemplifies this. Malone also introduces Sheila, a junior colleague, who we first encounter when she is taking time off work following her escape from a violent marriage. Her recovery from her ordeal is a clever juxtaposition; it injects hope and a nice reversal of stereotypical gender roles.
A Suitable Lie is a gripping read. The plot is taut, characters are, mostly well developed and the pace is fast. The denouement is tragic, unexpected and poses an important question about the pantheon of abusers; are some people simply evil?
Few books are without their flaws and while other characters are well-drawn, Anna feels a little two-dimensional. There is little evidence of the impact of being part of a secure family or of any hunger to understand herself or change her behaviour. It seems the author may have engineered this sense of hopelessness purposely to underscore the devastation abuse can wreak, but I was left feeling that Anna was incomplete as a character.
With that single reservation, this book is a superb, engaging and thought provoking read and demonstrates just how powerfully a good author can illuminate a difficult subject. Malone is to be credited for succeeding in giving us a powerful insight into the impact of abuse.
A Suitable Lie by M. Malone
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