Right from the opening lines this book gathered me in, with its deft descriptions, complex characters and rich, topical storyline. It explores notions about family, mothering and our responsibility to the children amongst us. Do we stand by whilst we witness children being harmed?
It begins with neighbours moving next door to Anna, a 37 year old graphic designer who lives alone with her garden. It doesn’t bode well for Anna that it is beyond midnight when they move in. From that first night Anna can hear the cries of a baby. It is the following day she meets her neighbours for the first time, the mother Gabby, who is `young and spectral thin’ and her 5 year old daughter Charlie, `the child looked up, pale eyes unblinking, her sticking out ears pierced with greenish studs. Her short hair had been hacked at’. It is Charlie’s cries Anna heard in the night.
Anna soon discovers that all is not well in Charlie’s world after the child reaches out to her. Anna reports this to the authorities, but when Charlie is left in harm’s way Anna becomes frightened of the consequences, for Charlie and herself. It is then she takes action, at a deep cost. Yet Anna feels compelled to act, and through her actions also saves herself. Along the way Anna remembers her own mother, and revisits the loss of her as a child. She also discovers what it is to mother, and to love another woman’s child as her own.
There is such depth to this novel. As a social worker who works with children and families, this story has stayed with me. At first I was reluctant to review this, thinking it could be too close to the bone. Yet I heartily recommend it, for it writes beautifully of love, courage and sacrifice.