"Can Anybody Help Me" Sinead Crowley
It was crazy really, she had never met the woman, had no idea of her real name but she thought of her as a friend. Or, at least, the closest thing she had to a friend in Dublin.
Struggling with a new baby, Yvonne turns to netmammy, an online forum for mothers, for support. Drawn into a world of new friends, she spends increasing amounts of time online and volunteers more and more information about herself.
When one of her new friends goes offline, Yvonne thinks something is wrong, but dismisses her fears. After all, does she really know this woman?
But when the body of a young woman with striking similarities to Yvonne’s missing friend is found, Yvonne realises that they’re all in terrifying danger. Can she persuade Sergeant Claire Boyle, herself about to go on maternity leave, to take her fears seriously?
I liked this thriller. It's a relatively easy read - although not light in content, the writing is fluent, effortless and not gratuitous. The main characters feel authentic with relationships, concerns and problems that will be recognisable to anyone with any experience of motherhood, marriage, extended family and social media. What is perhaps most refreshing about Crowley's novel, is the angle at which she decides to explore the risks of social media. Rather than focusing on how the misuse of social media can affect teens and younger children, she reveals how adults unwittingly expose themselves and make themselves vulnerable. How many of us have Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, instagram accounts? How much information could a stranger find out about you in a matter of clicks, however careful you think you've been? And how many hundreds of people do you communicate with daily based on a minute profile of less that 100 characters that could have been penned by anyone? *puts hand up sheepishly*
The real appeal of this book is how Yvonne, a new mother, a new wife and new to the city, ends up becoming part of a group of mums who swap parenting advice, or gather to "whinge and moan" about the endless routine of changing nappies, feeding, husbands and sleepless nights. There is nothing unusual about this - in fact, how many of us have bonded with complete strangers during those early days of motherhood when you suddenly feel almost alienated from your single friends or colleagues; your world completely redrawn by the arrival of your new child? For Yvonne, this bonding takes place via an internet forum. Again, nothing unusual or untoward about this in today's current obsession with social media sites and our craving for an online presence. And for Yvonne, and some of the other members, it offers a chance to socialise without having to negotiate leaving the house or an opportunity to hide the real you behind an online nickname.
Then one of her "friends" disappears from the conversations and fails to post anything for a while. This is when the suspense and mystery build and alongside a police inquiry, Crowley also raises questions about just how much we are revealing of ourselves online through our supposed coded statements. I can't say much more without spoiling it for those who have not read it, but I found the role of the online community in this police inquiry and crime thriller really interesting and enjoyed the interjection of the online threads in and amongst the main narrative sequence. It reflects how many of us process our news, feelings and friendships in this day and age.
I also like the characters. Yvonne and Claire are well crafted. Both women want to embrace and enjoy motherhood but also find it tiring, demanding and exhausting. Sergeant Claire Boyle is particularly frustrated by how her pregnancy is affecting her ability to work as she is a diligent, committed police officer with an admirable drive to do her job the best way she can. They are fallible, they are not perfect but they are real and this makes them appealing and likeable. Crowley particularly captures the effect of tiredness and sleep deprivation on the rational and emotional disposition of a woman - as well as the loss of identity that can sometimes come with the initial period of being a stay at home mother - and how this can prove to be the downfall of some of the characters in this fast paced read.
There are several different threads to hold on to tightly as Crowley develops the story line with two main protagonists and a colourful cast of many more- all mothers -whether of young children, newborns or expectant. The chapters are also broken up with "live" forum conversations from the website "netmammy" which initially seem a little random and indicative of the sort of comments to be found on these kind of sites, but as the story progresses the reader needs to scan these excerpts more carefully as the names, clues and comments become more significant to the dramatic finale. Even through these brief snippets of advice, comment, humour and despair, the character are very much alive and vivid and it is a credit to Crowley that she can make them so viable from such succinct and deft use of dialogue.
I would recommend this book to anyone looking for a modern, fast paced page turner with realistic characters who are not afraid to share their real feelings about motherhood and partners. Sergeant Claire is a determined character who captures the dilemma of many modern career women and Yvonne is an equally relatable character who finds herself struggling to function in the haze of early motherhood. Crowley evokes an atmosphere of exhaustion, blurriness and mental haze through her protagonists which also creates tension, suspense and empathy. The main plot line of a missing person has all the ingredients of a satisfying police procedural novel with the right amount of twists, turns, revelations, shocks and suspense. It is a solid crime read.
I guessed the ending wrong. Twice. The last paragraph left me with a shudder.
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