SECOND OPINION: The Child by Fiona Barton

Review published on September 18, 2017.

When the skeleton of a dead baby, probably decades old, is found on a building site, it warrants little more than a paragraph in a newspaper, barely noticed by most people and soon forgotten. However, for Angela, whose baby was abducted forty years earlier from the maternity ward; Emma, whose mother Jude, threw her out of home when she was sixteen, and for Kate, an investigative journalist looking for her next big scoop, this is the beginning of an investigation which will unearth long-hidden secrets.

Told through the voices of these four characters, this is a dark and disturbing story about how an unresolved event can influence people’s lives and relationships and how, when one piece of the story becomes exposed, carefully erected defences come crashing down, with traumatic effects on all concerned. I thought that the author handled the different voices and time-lines in a convincing way and that each of her characters was credible. Her portrayal of sleazy characters involved in the drugging and sexual exploitation of young women was very disturbing in its absolute believability. I thought she captured the long-term anguish of loss and grief in a very powerful and haunting way. I frequently found myself moved to tears as I followed the traumas some of the characters had faced, and how these had blighted not only their lives, but the lives of those around them. I enjoyed the exploration of motherhood: of what makes a good mother, how to achieve a balance between supporting and smothering, and whether major conflicts and rejections during childhood can be resolved in later life.

I quickly found myself liking the character of Kate and the fact that her emerging feelings for the subject of her “scoop” soon became equally important as her desire for the story. However, at a time of redundancies at her paper, I thought the fact that she was able to devote so much time to a story with such very tenuous basis in provable fact required a considerable suspension of incredulity! That apart, I found this a reasonably compelling story, with its various strands being gradually inter-woven in a skillful way. Although there were lots of red-herrings and twists and turns, I did guess quite a number of aspects of the eventual outcome – perhaps I am reading too many books in this genre! My main criticism is that, although this is a well-told story, I thought that it was over-long and that it required more editing, particularly in the final third. I struggled to decide whether to award it three or four stars but my niggles about the length influenced the lower rating. However, I am tempted to read the author’s debut novel, The Widow.

Linda Hepworth 3/3

The Child by Fiona Barton
Bantam Press 9780593077719 hbk Jun 2017

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