The Trophy Child by Paula Daly

Review published on August 6, 2017.

When Noel Bloom’s affair with Karen led to her becoming pregnant, he left his first wife and his daughter, Verity, and married his mistress, who had a young son, Ewan. When the story starts, their daughter, Brontë is ten years old and her parents have drifted apart and Noel is losing himself in casual affairs and his work as a GP. Unemployed, pot-smoking teenager Ewan is now living separately from the rest of the family, in an extension above the garage, and is a huge disappointment to Karen and Verity, now living with them because Noel’s ex has advanced MS and is living in a nursing home, is failing at school. Following two recent incidents, when she physically attacked Karen and was suspected of drug-taking, the head of the expensive private school she attends insisted that she should attend counselling and undergo regular testing for drugs in order to remain at the school.

It soon becomes clear that, disappointed with all her other relationships within this increasingly dysfunctional, disconnected family, Karen has become obsessed with proving to the world that she can be a brilliant mother, that at least one of her children will excel, even though at the expense of the needs of everyone else. Poor Brontë, a sweet, good-natured child of average intelligence, is pushed to exhaustion as her mother expects her to achieve academic brilliance. Karen also fills every moment of the child’s spare time with piano and harp lessons, dance classes, extra tutoring etc., allowing her no free time in which to relax and have fun. Things reach crisis point when Brontë goes missing and although she turns up safe and well she refuses to enlarge on her story that she spent the night in a neighbour’s shed, even though it is clear to everyone that she is not being entirely truthful. However, whilst the intense search for her daughter was underway, Karen’s arrogant and aggressive attitudes towards the police and the press provoke abuse on social media and so, when Karen herself goes missing several weeks later, there is a long list of potential suspects who may have wanted to harm her!

In this story Paula Daly created a central character it was very easy to hate, and it’s hard to believe that any reader would think other than that all members of this family would fare much better if Karen, vividly portrayed as a woman who doesn’t care who gets hurt as long as she gets achieves what she wants, was to disappear from their lives! I thought that the author’s exploration of parenting and family dynamics, although somewhat superficial, was probably the strongest feature of the story. Although there were some interesting aspects to the development of the plot, I found too much of it to be predictable – I had guessed the outcome just over halfway through! – and this resulted in the story lacking any of the tension I look forward to in a good psychological thriller. I found many of the characters to be fairly stereotypical and one-dimensional and there were times when I felt like shaking most of them for their stupid and thoughtless behaviour! That said, I did enjoy the portrayal of Verity who, at times felt like the most mature character in the family! Also, I quite liked the very human characterisation of DI Joanne Aspinall (a familiar character from an earlier novel I read by this author) – although her lack of professionalism made me want to shout at her on several occasions!

This was an easy to read, relatively thought-provoking story about parenting and family relationships, with themes about abuse, control, deception, rivalry, secrets and lies providing some interesting discussion points for reading groups and, living in Cumbria, I certainly enjoyed the recognisable locations – these were the features which encouraged me to give it three rather than the two stars I had originally considered!

Linda Hepworth 3/3

The Trophy Child by Paula Daly
Corgi 9780552171632 pbk May 2017

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