The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah

Sometimes I read too damn fast.  I was planning on this book lasting me a week, and instead I sucked it down in two nights.  The first night I stayed up far past when I should have been asleep because I was so engrossed in the story.  I almost skipped ahead to know what happened, just so I could get some sleep, but I was enjoying the writing and the way the story unfolded too much to ruin it.

The protagonist, Sally Thorning, is a rushed off her feet working mother of two, with a husband who doesn’t help as much as he thinks he does.  One night he calls her to watch a report on the TV about a woman who has killed her young daughter and then herself.  Sally is shocked by the crime, and then further shocked when she hears the details.  The previous year, Sally had met the husband of the dead woman on a trip and had an affair with him.  But the man on the TV, tears running down his face as he talks of his dead wife and child, is not the man Sally knew.  Sally writes an anonymous note to the police, and begins to investigate the deaths herself, trying to find out what she has become involved in without revealing her affair.

The police rush to the conclusion that the mother killed her child and then herself, in part because of diary entries they find on the mother’s laptop describing the exhaustion and frustration of being a mother.  But DC Simon Waterhouse has doubts.  There are inconsistencies in the diary, and a suit is missing from the husband’s closet.  He starts to pull apart the theory of this being a “family annihilator” killing.

The book rotates between Sally’s story (told in first person), DC Waterhouse’s, and the diary entries of the dead woman.  The diary is painfully blunt about the conflicting emotions of loving your child but wanting freedom from her annoying presence.  There are times when her behavior towards her daughter verges very closely on the cruel, but more often it is just the venting of a woman honest about being a bad mother, about not wanting to be a mother despite the love she feels for her daughter.

Except for the diary entries, the book moves forward chronologically, there’s no shifting back and forth in time to bring about the twist in the story.  It develops from elements clearly there from the beginning, elements that take on a darker and darker meaning as the book progresses.  The tension cranks up and doesn’t let up, compelling you to keep reading to find the answer and get a release.

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March 4, 2010. Tags: . Books.

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