"Baby Doll" by Hollie Overton
Lily has spent the last eight years held captive in a 400 ft sq room with her 6 yr old daughter Sky. One day she doesn't hear the bolt slide across to lock the heavy door after her captor's visit. She takes her chance, seizes the moment and with Sky, escapes. She finds her way back home - unbelievably only a mere 5 miles away.
On her return home, she finds much has changed. Her identical twin sister Abby, older than her by only 6 minutes, is pregnant. Always the more dominant and controlling twin, Abby's manner seems more aggressive and more unhappy than Lily remembered. Abby is quick to chide their mother and is not afraid to challenge or answer rudely to the questions from the police - she is incredibly protective towards Lily. But there seems to be something more troubling her than just a short temper. Also troubled and changed is their mother, Eve, whose husband has died while Lily was held prisoner, and now seeks the company of men though one night stands in a bid to escape her loneliness and grief.
Lily tries to adapt to being free and safe but is clearly deeply traumatised from her experience and extremely reluctant to name her captor. It is a small town. He is an upstanding member of the community. He has a partner. He holds a position of trust and responsibility within the town. Everyone will know him and she fears no one will believe her. She tries to gain reassurance by constantly reminding herself that she is no longer alone, "her sister, her best friend, was here to see her through this," but it is a struggle and she suffers from a huge fear and distrust of people.
This novel is interesting because it focuses on the aftermath of Lily's escape rather than her imprisonment. The tension, suspense and thrilling finale are all to do with events after she is allegedly safe and free. It explores how everyone is affected and how everyone struggles to come to terms with what Lily has experienced and the revelation of her captor.
The story is narrated through multiple points of view, switching between characters in each new chapter. The main voices are Lily, Abby, Eve and Rick - the captor. This technique keeps the pace swift and pulls the reader along making it a quick read. By letting so many different voices tell the story, Overton can create a more multi layered plot and can also somewhat reduce the intensity of Lily's immense injuries and suffering as she is sharing the narrative with several other dominant voices so it doesn't become an oppressive read. It also keeps the central focus on what happened next rather than the horror of the abduction and confinement. We dip in and out of people's thoughts and emotions rather than staying with one person, which consequently also means we do not form overly deep bonds with the characters, neither are they allowed to develop in detail. As this is a fair review of the book, I must say that for me, I found this meant the characters sometimes lost a little of their authenticity and conviction. With a large cast of characters all with their own story to tell, all created with turmoil, crisis, volatile behaviour and finishing their respective sections with cliffhangers, the novel is quite melodramatic; we are watching as events spiral out of control and it is the people around Lily who are falling apart rather than just Lily. As another reviewer commented it begins to feel like a "soap opera" at times. This isn't a wholly negative comment as it means Overton retains pace, drama, tension and action throughout the whole story and maybe it reads like a TV Kay Mellor crime series or some of the more popular shows like "The Fall", "Mistresses", "From Darkness","Doctor Foster" - a bit of a box set to enjoy one Friday evening. I think it would make quite a captivating film or series.
There are some really dramatic scenes in the book. They are written in a very vivid and filmic style and perhaps more sensationalised than some of the other psychological thrillers I have read. There were a few moments which require a the reader to suspend reality a little but if you do this, the scenes are more thrilling and powerful. Overton keeps her audience engaged by revealing a family reacting to things in a way that is not as you'd expect. The real threat and person who completely changes the course of everyone's future doesn't actually come from the one you are primed to suspect. Maybe this makes it more realistic or raw. It certainly makes things more theatrical.
Abby is a really interesting character. Her anger and loyalty are so fierce and all consuming. Her guilt, her sense of responsibility and her desire to fight for her sister drives her to make decisions that will have catastrophic repercussions. In a way, she behaves more as husband or mother should and it is interesting that Overton has chosen to make her main characters identical twins. This adds an unusual dimension to the plot and another layer to the relationships between the characters.
The role of the captor was also interesting. I liked the fact that he was such an upstanding member of the community and had been so well respected and liked by everyone who knew him. This made some of the revelations very tense and effective. I also found giving the character of Rick his own voice was quite effective and the fact that he still poses such a real threat to Lily even when he is arrested. He is still able to threaten her and manipulate her every day even though she has "escaped".
This book cannot avoid being compared to "Room" or the recent TV series "Thirteen" and indeed, I think "Baby Doll" would also make a fantastic TV series. It is perhaps more accessible and less harrowing than "Room" and I think will reach a wider audience because actually it is the behaviours of Abby and Eve that are as engaging and take up as much of the action and focus as the rehabilitation of Lily. It does have stiff competition from the plethora of psychological thrillers currently on the market but I think it will probably hold its own.
My thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for an advanced copy of this book in return for a fair review.
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