Monday, 28 March 2016

My Review of "The Cry" & "Viral" by Helen Fitzgerald

The Cry
Joanna, Alistair and their 9 week old baby travel to Australia for Alistair to spend some time with his daughter Chloe who currently lives with her mother Alexandra. Baby Noah goes missing from their car while they are pulled up at a service station and so begins a police investigation, court case and a media frenzy.

The premise of this story immediately appealed to me and I must thank Cleo at cleopatralovesbooks for the recommendation! This novel is inspired by a real event from 1980 when 2 month old Azaria Chamberlain was taken from her tent on a camping holiday. Lindy Chamberlain was arrested and served 3 years in prison for her murder before being acquitted when it was finally proved that the baby had been taken by a dingo. The conviction was first overturned in 1988 but the parents weren't cleared of all charges in 2008 when the case was finally closed. A final confirmation of the cause of death was not announced until 2012 when a death certificate was finally issued. I have seen the Meryl Streep and Sam O'Neil film "A Cry in the Dark" which is based on this story and was released a mere 2 months after the Chamberlains are first exonerated in 1988. Similarly there is the case of Madeline McCann from 2007 and her mother Kate, which has been the most heavily reported missing persons case in modern history. The McCanns were also held as suspects and tried before being cleared of all charges. What appears to fascinate Fitzgerald is the how the mother is portrayed in such cases. It is the mother who always seems to be given the rougher ride by the media and the general public, suffering harsher judgements than the father - whose names we may struggle to recall.  

This is an utterly gripping story. It moves quickly flitting between extracts from the flight to Australia in February and the court case in July. We hear Joanne's narrative of events, transcripts from court, twitter feeds and various witness accounts which convey the sense of "frenzy" and interest surrounding events and compound the judgements being made against Joanna.

Joanna's personality is drawn quickly - nervous, anxious, a tired, stressed, lonely, unsupported, fragile new mum who lacks confidence in her mothering skills and is a little overwhelmed with the responsibility - but only in a way many of us are after two months of broken sleep and the relentless routine of feeding and caring for a new born. What is clear is Joanna's love for Noah. Fitzgerald cleverly establishes all of this effortlessly by placing Joanna and Noah on a flight - not just any flight, a flight to the other side of the world - with Joanna desperately trying to settle and soothe her crying baby. Alistair comes across as arrogant, selfish, patronising and the decision maker of the pair. He manages to make her look incompetent publicly and all this implies a great deal about their marriage. So within the opening pages a scene of tension, stress and unhappiness is set creating much intrigue which is further compounded with the tragically distressing disappearance of Noah from the car once they begin their long journey to Alistair's mother.

I loved the way Fitzgerald showed how quickly events can be misconstrued and misinterpreted and her injection of snippets from the court case help illustrated the way things quickly spiral out of context and control. The added voices of Alexandra (the ex wife) add an extra layer of intrigue and the growing sense that everyone has a secret to hide and no one is actually telling the truth. The background threat of the bush fires also exaggerate the impending threat and intensity. There is much symbolism in its atmosphere of suffocation, danger and the idea of begin hounded and chased by something which you can't control, predict or escape from.

Tension builds dramatically and each chapter ends with cliffhangers. I had read 100 pages without even looking up once or noticing!

This novel is scarily plausible. It is a harrowing and compelling psychological drama with a stunning conclusion. The plot is skilfully crafted to reveal and conceal truth and lies, twists and turns. It explores themes of loss, guilt, duplicity, playing a role, madness, deception, decisions and their repercussions and a loss of who and what you are. It explores the controversial and infinite discussion of what makes a good mother and how both love and the fear of not being loved have the power to drive people to behave in the most extreme manner. I was also intrigued by the judgements made against Joanna - how quickly and how virulently blame is apportioned to the mother and how heavily she is criticised for the way she is reacting to the loss of her baby. What is the "right" way to behave? Is there a "right" way to behave?

A definite 4/5 star read. Would highly recommend!


Viral
So this is the book that literally went "viral" on Twitter with rave reviews filling my timeline quicker than I could scroll through them! And with possibly the most controversial opening line in the history of books!

It continues with an equally shocking paragraph stating that "so far twenty three thousand and ninety six people have seen me do this. They might include my mother, my father, my little sister, my grandmother, my other grandmother, my grandfather, my boss, my sixth year biology teacher and my boyfriend of six weeks, James."

Yes, if you can get past the first line then you will be well and truly hooked! This is a novel for our time, exploring every parent's (or teenagers) worst nightmare and the perils of social media. Again, like "The Cry", this is inspired by a real story from the newspapers in 2014. Fitzgerald explores the far reaching consequences and effects of one horrifying incident and how the event becomes life altering for more than just the protagonist. As a reviewer on Goodreads summarised: The ripple effect of events on the holiday quickly become more like a tsunami and nobody is untouched by it.

Leah and her sister Su have gone on holiday to Magaluf to celebrate finishing their A-Levels. After Su is caught on camera and the video erupts across the internet, she disappears and Leah returns home without her. Ruth, the girl's mother and successful court judge, is furious and sets to to seek justice. But who is really to blame? What role did Leah have in this? And how will they find Su if she doesn't want to be found?

The characters are great in this book - the reader has a real love / hate relationship with them and I found myself switching from like /dislike / hate / love with most of them several times throughout the story which made it quite compelling. Su is "prudish, virginal...stay at home and study Su". She doesn't swear. She doesn't drink. She was adopted from South Korea as a baby and her parents have always embraced her native culture and heritage with intent care and attention. Ruth adores her. She is the daughter of which they are immensely proud and Bernard, the father, dotes on her in quite an obsequious manner. Su's narrative of events is engaging as she recounts events leading up to the trip away, the holiday itself and then the fallout. Her family relationships are emotionally complex and there are interesting themes of needing to belong, to fit in and to the lengths a person might go in order to please or protect someone. Su is pragmatic and intelligent and that makes her frank expression and use of language to describe what has happened more effective. Her blunt statements show how the enormity of what has happened becomes more apparent to her and as a high achieving student, she is fully aware of how much her "perfect" life has changed. Fitzgerald captures her situation with authenticity and conviction.

Leah on the other hand is downright vile! She is a rebel. She drinks, smokes, takes drugs, has sex and clashes with her mother at every opportunity. Conceived naturally only 1 month after Su's adoption, she feels second best despite being the "miracle" baby and very much doted on by her slightly delusional father. Leah harbours a deep resentment towards Su and is constantly racist and unpleasant towards her, never missing an opportunity to make her feel worthless or different.

Ruth is an equally strongly drawn character. A true "ball-breaker". Confident, attractive, intelligent, successful and with a ruthless determination. She has a darker side though and her behaviour is unnerving. As with "The Cry", this novel also raises lots of questions about motherhood and what makes a good mother.

I'll leave you to read it and decide who is the victim - or how many people are victims- as well as who is to blame and how much they are to blame....... It is thought provoking and the final line is as sensational as the opening line.

And if you liked these, there are lots more to choose from next! I've downloaded "My Last Confession" to take on holiday. It's always great to discover a new writer who has published so may titles there are plenty to look up next!

The Exit The Donor Dead LovelyThe Devil's Staircase The Duplicate

For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacUK) or sign up for email notifications of future posts.

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