You know from the start of this novel that something has happened to Christina and her daughter Bianca. Meredith Jaffe drip feeds the details over this chilling read. She captures the manipulation, the grooming, the predatory behaviour, and the development of trust and dependency that come with abusive relationships.
Christina, an interior designer, meets wealthy Jackson, a client of the firm she works for. He is married with three children. The professional relationship turns into an affair and he offers Christina and Bianca everything she thinks they want. Security, material comfort and a father figure for Bianca. Jamie does not give his daughter what Christina believes she needs.
When Jackson finally leaves his wife he moves them to an old estate in the country, isolating them from any support networks. Christina’s good friend Dell is concerned for her, believing money changes the power dynamic in a relationship, and now she is a long way away. Dell’s fears are illustrated when Jackson makes statements like ‘since I’m funding this adventure, we’ll do it my way’ and ‘my money, my house, my rules’.
The book is told over a number of years and Bianca, a toddler at the start of the book, becomes a teenager. She is withdrawn, not sleeping, having nightmares and crying out in the night. Christina tries to get her to open up, but Bianca pushes her away.
As it moves back and forward in time, what exactly went on is revealed. While knowing the probability of it, the actuality is still devastating and heartbreaking.
Christina deals with the guilt, the not seeing and knowing. She went from feeling that ‘everything good about herself she owed to him’, that ‘she would give him everything, anything, as long as he kept touching her this way’, to wanting nothing to do with him.
The adversarial legal system that is ‘designed to doubt and deride’ and allows the bullying of children, is shown with all of its problems in cases like this where it is his word against that of a child witness.
The subplot of the previous owners of the estate, Bartholomew’s Run, was interesting as it showed how Jackson allowed Christina to become distracted by this history, but I felt the direction it headed took away from the main plot.
Despite this, I found it to be a very insightful look at how women and children can be exploited by men in positions of power.