Wednesday, 12 July 2017
#FionaNeill #TheBetrayals #Review
Sometimes there are four sides to every story.
Who do you believe?
This is a fascinating and gripping read. Told from the point of view of all four members of one family, the reader sees each person's reaction to the crisis they are all facing and each of them forcing to confront their problems that are triggered by the arrival of a letter from their mother's oldest -yet estranged - friend. The author delves deep into the characters and with thought, insight and intelligence, fully explores the issues of betrayal, lies, guilt, responsibility and love. This is an intense read, where no character is left without some kind of metaphorical, emotional or physical scar and where the fight to uphold a projected image, an ideal, an entire family's secret is continually challenged.
Ultimately this novel has a great premise. What would you do when the woman who destroyed your marriage, family, children's happiness and completely upended your life, writes a letter begging to see you as they have something that they have to tell you? There is no doubting Neill can write a page turner. But what I enjoyed more than this was how she used the profession of her characters - a doctor and a medical student amongst them - to explore the contrast between the rational, the scientific, the proven against the irrational, the emotional and the inexplicable. This is a novel about the mind as much as about a family built on secrets and betrayals.
I thought it was ambitious of Neill to use the voice of each family member but it works. With four separate threads to keep track of and relate to, this a very multilayered novel but it also enables Neill to add a lot more depth and dimension to the family and the main characters. It also helps to reduce the claustrophobic feeling created through the portrayal of Daisy's mental illness and perhaps prevents some of the more emotional passages from becoming too overwhelming which might have happened had we only relied on hearing from Daisy.
Neill is an accomplished writer and has successfully created four voices which are all distinctive. They all have their own battles, secrets, anxieties, dilemmas and choices. There is a lot to absorb; the characters are all incredibly complex and the reader has to establish how they feel towards each one of them, but watching the relationships and interaction between them unfold - or should I say unravel -is fascinating and compelling. The reader is more drawn to Daisy, the daughter. I think her voice dominates the plot out of the four and I think it is necessary to align yourself with one character in order to drive the plot effectively and it also helps create more tension and suspense between the family.
Rosie, the mother, is a highly successful, powerful, respected, career driven woman and I liked that we watched a strong woman fighting and using every tool in her box to try and understand what is happening to her daughter Daisy and how to fix her family. I enjoyed Kit, the son, a medical student, explaining how the brain works and how this pragmatic, rational, detailed scientific explanation still doesn't actually satisfy or help him understand the mental health of his sister Daisy. Neill doesn't dumb anything down for her readers, she involves us in these discussions about the ethical dilemmas of a doctor, a mother, a friend and includes us in debates about science and medicine. I also like that, as with The Good Girl, Neill's characters are intelligent, bright and aspirational as that emphasises her themes and increases the shock and dramatic tension.
I thought it was original the way Neill used the medical background of the characters to show off her creative use of language. The ideas of disease, symptoms, feelings, imagination, strength and weakness are often captured with clever and incredibly effective metaphors or adjectives which resonate deeply and penetrate the page. I also really enjoyed the exploration of memories. Can we trust our memories? How are our memories created? How do we know we saw what we saw and how do we know these memories have not adapted, changed, morphed into something they weren't? And if the memories that the characters are clinging on to and assuring the reader that they are the truth, how reliable are our characters and who can we trust?
Another brave decision of Neill's is that her main character Daisy suffers cripplingly from OCD. This illness is not just there to create some gratuitous sensationalism or an extra twist, it is intrinsic to the plot and the relationship between the four characters, but it is also one of the most believable and realistic portrayals of this illness that I have read. It is so well evoked and so exhausting to read, so draining, destructive and so all consuming. It shows how complicit her family can become in allowing the illness to tighten its clutches around Daisy even when they think they are trying to save her. Neill's ability to pull this off is very impressive and yet again reflects her accomplishment as a writer.
However, although there is definitely great depth to this novel, it is ultimately a very gripping read about memory, fault, blame, guilt, trust and betrayal. It is about small acts of betrayal and enormous acts of betrayal. Neill raises many questions about who has betrayed who and the inadvertent misunderstandings between loved ones. This novel will appeal to everyone as the themes of family life, the pressures of parenting, of modern life, of coping, preserving and protecting yourself and your loved ones are universal and all readers enjoy the insight into the workings of another family.
The story flits between the past and the present, between the damaged and the dysfunctional, between the conventional and the unconventional. It is a novel that will make you think, reflect, question and consider as well as judge, hate, rage, cry and love the characters as they battle their way through this moment of crisis. And the ending is incredibly chilling. It demands consideration and although satisfying, it does not completely resolve everything which I think reflects the key themes of the story and summarises them beautifully.
I read Neill's first novel, The Good Girl, when it came out and have been eagerly awaiting her second which I was absolutely thrilled to be approved for via NetGalley. Like The Good Girl, this is a novel that contains all the ingredients for a good psychological thriller but is somehow much more than that as well. As with The Good Girl, I will be recommending it to my Book Group as this is a book that can not only be devoured on the beech this summer but also screams out to be used as a great conversation starter and perfect for some interesting discussions!
The Betrayals is published by Penguin on 13th July 2017.
For more recommendations and reviews follow me on Twitter @KatherineSunde3 or via my website bibliomaniacuk.co.uk