Monday 7 September 2015

Book Review: The Daughter's Secret by Eva Holland.

Product details:  
Publisher: Orion.
Paperback, 320 pages.
Release date: August 13th 2015.
Rating: 3½ out of 5.
Ages: Adult
Source: Received from publisher for review.

 My daughter is a liar. A liar, liar, liar. And I'm starting to see where she gets it from.

When Rosalind's fifteen-year-old daughter, Stephanie, ran away with her teacher, this ordinary family became something it had never asked to be. Their lives held up to scrutiny in the centre of a major police investigation, the Simms were headline news while Stephanie was missing with a man who was risking everything.

Now, six years on, Ros takes a call that will change their lives all over again. He's going to be released from prison. Years too early. In eleven days' time.

As Temperley's release creeps ever closer, Ros is forced to confront the events that led them here, back to a place she thought she'd left behind, to questions she didn't want to answer. Why did she do it? Where does the blame lie? What happens next?

 How far would you go to protect your daughter?

Five years ago Rosalind Simms' perfectly ordered world was torn apart when her then fifteen-year- old daughter Stephanie absconded with her Geography teacher, Nathan Temperly.  Things are just about getting back to normal for Ros – an art class at which she excels, a flirtation and maybe something more with a fellow student – when she hears the news she’s been dreading for the past five years: Temperly is about to be released. This is the last thing Ros wants – and she’ll do anything to protect her damaged daughter from the man who preyed upon Stephanie when she was so young, changing her world forever.

As attention-grabbing as the pulled-from-the-headlines subject matter of this book may initially seem, The Daughter’s Secret is not the salacious page-turner you might be expecting or hoping for.  Rather it is the slow-burn story of a damaged family that beneath the shiny surface of its affluent postcode is rotting away at the seams through a series of secrets, lies and deceit.

When we meet Stephanie five years on from her ordeal with her former teacher, it is difficult to warm to or feel anything much in the way of sympathy for the girl. At twenty-one sullen Stephanie frequently drinks herself into a stupor and generally behaves like a spoilt brat, but is never admonished by her mother, who treats her with kid gloves to the extreme. To a certain point I understand why Ros treats her daughter this way, but she certainly isn’t doing Stephanie any favours by tip-toeing around her multitude issues.  Ros is overprotective and then some, while Stephanie’s father on the other hand, seems to have checked out of family life. Well, maybe he’s got other things going on. He does seem to work late – a lot. And we all know what that means… (at least in popular culture!)

I should also mention that this book is narrated entirely by anxious, over-protective Ros who irritated me to the extreme and somewhat detracted from my enjoyment of this book. For that reason and others outlined below I feel like a multi-point-of-view narration may have been a better fit here. I guess I just didn’t much like Ros and I didn’t much like her daughter either. As for Temperly, he is painted as a cartoon villain by Ros, with no redeeming characteristics whatsoever; and from her point of view, that makes sense, but I do think that chapters from Temperly’s point of view might really have added some depth and a lot of food for thought to the story. It would also have been great to get an insight into the character of Stephanie. As it is, she is presented as a twenty-something who seemingly never quite got past her teenage angst phase of her life.  Overall, while The Daughter’s Secret shows buckets of promise in its premise, it never really lived up to the expectations I had for it. What could have been a very interesting study of three unlikeable yet compelling characters, turns out to be a pretty run of the mill, if well-crafted, family drama with few shocks or surprises along the way. Fine, if that’s your thing, but otherwise really nothing ground-breaking.

The most interesting aspect of this book for me was the ‘what happens next’ part of the story. We all see the headlines on the front pages of the tabloids when these news stories break (I am pretty sure this book was inspired by a pretty high profile and much-covered-by-the-UK-tabloids story a few years back) but have you ever wondered what happens to the families involved after those headlines fade from view?  Have you ever wondered how they carry on with their fractured lives once the cameras are gone and the journalists have moved on to the next breaking news story? If so, then Eva Holland’s debut is the book for you. The Daughter’s Secret is very much an interesting exploration of a total breakdown of family dynamics after a shock to the system from which it never fully recovers.

Read The Daughter’s Secret if you loved Daughter by Jane Shemilt and The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty.

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