"The Trophy Child" by Paula Daly
Confession time. I have three of Paula Daly's books on my kindle but this is the first one I have managed to fit into my review schedule and actually finally get around to reading! And I now I know why I see so many rave reviews of her novels and that all the enticing things said about her writing are true!
I'm so glad I rushed to get an ARC of "The Trophy Child" but I must say, never has a book come along at a more pertinent time in my life!!
"The Trophy Child" is about Karen Bloom, tiger mum extraordinaire. Karen runs a tight ship, rushing Bronte from music lesson to dance lesson to school to more music lessons, believing that tough discipline is the true art of parenting and that achievement leads to ultimate happiness. She has an unending quest for perfection and excellence which she focuses particularly on her prodigy daughter Bronte.
But despite Karen's dedication to preserving a carefully constructed facade of a perfect family, things are beginning to crumble. Her son from a previous relationship is developing a drug habit, her step daughter Verity is beginning to rebel and protect Bronte and her husband Noel is trying to remember why he ever fell in love with this tough, driven, assertive woman who is putting her family first at the very expense of the family.
And then tragedy strikes. Bronte goes missing. And from then on, every boundary, barrier and wall that Karen has constructed around the Bloom family starts to collapse.
This is a good read. There is murder, mystery, drugs, bullying, sibling rivalry, infidelity, suspense and tension. What's appealing about this story is that, like any great psychological thriller writer, Daly takes a family that are seemingly ordinary. A family that is not unlike some you know or with features that you recognise in families in your community and shows that with a little digging beneath the surface things are not always as perfect as they seem. Daly explores the devastating consequences that can befall a family when they stop communicating, lose sight of what they really want for each other, what they really mean to each other and set off on a course of action that can only lead to dramatic results.
I don't think this novel was particularly good for my blood pressure. Or my stress levels. That Karen, wow, she really is a piece of work.
"You've not even got your shoes on. You know how I hate to be late. Being late is not who I am. Not who you are, Bronte Bloom. Late people are not only disorganised, they are disrespectful of other people's time. Is that how you want to be regarded? As disrespectful?"
And she doesn't let up. Ever. And that is how she speaks to everyone, all the time. Even Noel her husband. Karen truly believes she is doing the right thing by Bronte - she really isn't as bothered about Verity or Ewan as they clearly don't have the potential or talent that she is fostering in Bronte - and even just reading about the exhausting schedule she keeps Bronte to made me want to lie down. Listening to the mechanics of her life, the routine, preparation, the appearance puts the reader in a spin and what's even more upsetting is that Karen is completely devoted to Bronte. She thinks this is what she should do for her daughter, that this is the way to love and cherish her.
"Karen was a tiger mother and she was proud of it. Why shouldn't she be? Just because ordinary mothers had decided it was wrong to push their offspring, just because they took the easy way out, saying it wasn't a mother's place to mould a child into greatness, it didn't mean Karen had to go along with it. Because they would say that, wouldn't they? It was an easy way to justify their own lazy lives, their own acceptance of mediocrity."
You see, utterly charming isn't she?! Daly's characterisation of Karen is excellent. She is detestable. There is not one redeeming feature about her. Because she is so proud of her actions and behaviour, because she is so sure of herself and so deeply unpleasant to everyone else, it is easy to dislike her and not feel guilty about your reaction to her. I had no sympathy for her. Even when Bronte goes missing, it is hard to feel much sympathy for Karen as she does not miss an opportunity to make vicious comments, carry out underhand behaviour and make unrealistic demands on the police. She really is vile. And although usually it's fun to 'love to hate' the bad guy, it wasn't much fun here. It was just hating to hate the bad guy the whole way for me!
In contrast is our detective Joanne Aspinall. Calm, unflustered, real, genuine, and human. Joanne is perceptive. She will not be riled or goaded by Karen. She will not be brushed off by Noel or fooled by Verity. She will ask the questions, probe further, dig deeper. The background about Joanne and her personal relationships happening alongside the investigation paint the picture of a flawed woman, but a woman whose integrity, intelligence and balanced life view keep emphasising the dysfunctional behaviour of the Bloom family. It's a great balance.
Noel, the husband is a bit of a disappointing character - deliberately so I think. He is worn down by Karen. He is too weak to stand up to her but also knows too well what the consequences of any descent might be. He seems tired and resigned. ......But actually he has some secrets too, which then did affect the way I felt towards him. Ultimately, as a father whose daughter goes missing and then goes on to suffer further tragedy should gain all our empathy but Daly doesn't make it that straight forward. Why should she?! This is a thriller after all! There is a murderer out there don't you know!
It's difficult to say more without giving anything away. I would describe novel as domestic noir but it is not a crime thriller in the traditional sense. It is very compelling because the characters are so fascinating so you are gripped by their motivations. The story isn't so much about who needs to be arrested, but more about who is guilty and who is responsible. It is about watching the dynamics between people and really evaluating what it is that lies between them.
Karen is not a murderer but she suffocates Bronte. Karen is not weak but she becomes a victim. Verity is not a jealous step sister but she becomes a suspect and Noel is a not a faithful husband but does love his children. The definitions within the novel are complicated. The family is complicated. Things are not as they seem. People are not as they seem. This is a story about deception, ambition, callousness and lies. This is a novel about the fatal outcomes of modern day parenting gone wrong.
The real question is how much has been exaggerated by Daly? How much of this is just fiction and how much of it is nightmarishly true? How many of us have the faint beginnings of a Karen Bloom growing inside us, either wittingly or unwittingly, either despite our best efforts or because of our best efforts? Noel sees traces of Karen in other mothers. Joanne sees echoes of it around her. Has this novel created a despicable character beyond belief who horrifies us or has it raised a few questions in our own minds about the minefield of modern day parental pressures and expectations?
This is a story of murder, mystery and psychopathic behaviour; it is compelling but it is not just about solving a crime, it's not just about saving people. It's about parenting, motherhood, expectations placed on families by society and patterns of behaviour that are beginning to change the whole concept of childhood. It's a great read. Daly's depictions of the Bloom family are unsettling and quite terrifying.
This novel will stay with you. It may not be the most chilling crime read of 2017 but it will give you nightmares, haunt you and make you think about the characters long afterwards. Read it. Get your friends to read it because guys, we really do need to talk about Karen.
"The Trophy Child" will be published on 26th January 2017.
For more recommendations and reviews you can follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 (bibliomaniacuk)