‘The Child’-ish Book Review

A workman discovers the remains of a baby while digging up a building site in Woolwich in England, and it’s reported as a two sentence piece in a newspaper more focused on the London Olympics, the Royals and potential terrorists. Most would have ignored it. Not Kate Waters. Kate, a plucky older journalist in an era of young reporters and online news, discovers the story and files it away for later use. She decides to discover the truth behind the baby, but gets more than she bargained for when she learns more about the residents of Howard Street. Combine this with Angela Irving, who lost her baby back in 1970 and is still struggling to cope, and Emma Simmonds, who’s also struggling to deal with the news as it brings back long-hidden memories, and you’ve got an intriguing, almost-400 page read.

The Child is Fiona Barton’s second novel, and I went to the library and had them order it in, as I loved Barton’s previous book, The Widow, so much. Unfortunately, I’m a massive procrastinator, and the book was a couple days late, when I realised I really should pick it up and read it, since I’ve got so many other books to read (Final Girls, Crash Override, Quiet, Day of the Triffids, the rest of Adrian Mole, etc). Lucky for me, it’s AMAZINGLY QUICK to read. I mean, I read 20 pages over a month, since the book started quite slowly. I then finished the remaining 350 or so pages in two days. Yes, two. Despite this knowledge, I almost DNF’d this second book, because the start wasn’t interesting at all. It just felt like a rehash of The Widow, except a dead baby this time instead of a missing child. I decided, since the book was late back to the library, I should quickly read more of it to see if it was worth it, and yes, the book does get better.

Despite being off to a slow start, The Child is a good read. I enjoyed reading about Angela, I liked hearing about Kate’s life with the Post and the realism there, and even though I didn’t like Emma in the beginning, I grew to like her. My problem was that the book focused too much on Kate in the beginning, and she wasn’t my favourite character from the first one. She reminds me of everything there is to dislike about journalism: she’s fake to people just to get their story, everyone somehow reveals their big secrets to her with little provocation (Emma to Kate at the ’80s reunion), and she feels like a bit of a Mary Sue. I did like that she spoke to DI Bob Sparkes again, and their banter and connection was really great. While I found the subplots at the Post interesting— the redundancies and poor Crime Man, the problems with budget cuts and the importance of shitty celebrity/gossip “news”— I did understand why the rest of the paper seemed to view Kate as little out of touch. She describes her intern/implied replacement  Joe as being obsessed with his phone and not understanding simple things like writing and looking at old *gasp* paper files. I can understand: it seems to imply Joe will be her replacement, she’s pissed, but it’s not like that’s his fault. At least they work well together as a team, and I enjoyed the awkwardness of their relationship as they work to find out if the baby is Angela’s daughter Baby Alice, or is it actually Emma’s?

Unlike Paula Hawkins’s second book, The Child has a reasonable number of POV’s. You have Kate, who’s used in the story far too much, though I wish there’d been a chapter on her near the end to see how she was dealing with her son’s Thailand trip and if Joe was actually going to replace her. Then there’s Angela and her husband Nick, and I really did feel sorry for Angela, whose story had a lot of parallels to Lindy and Michael Chamberlain, especially with how Angela is blamed for Baby Alice’s disappearance. There’s Emma and her university lecturer husband Paul, who I disliked in the beginning, but grew to like by the end (with the not-so-surprising revelation). There’s Jude Massingham, Emma’s mother, who you love to hate for one thing, but you should really be hating her for something completely different. There’s Will Burnside, Jude’s ex-partner and the man who Emma really loathes. This is the bit I figured out basically straight away. I predicted what would be of Will, and it was cemented when Al Soames, the ex-landlord of Howard Street, pops up. You also hear from Barbara, who used to be in the thick of things in Howard Street and used to be friends with Jude, who you kinda dislike ’cause of her dog (oh, Kate, maybe the dogs don’t like you because you’re not that nice a person), but come to sympathise with. She’s largely forgotten in the wake of Emma’s not-so-secret revelation.

In regards to the two big plot twists, only one of these was a surprise for me. I had basically worked out Emma’s secret from nearly the beginning. Jude calling it simply a “crush” made me disgusted for Jude, and it probably helped cement my dislike of her. She’s an ode to passive aggressive mothers— indeed parents—everywhere. I only worked out the second plot twist—the one of Baby Alice—when Joe does his Wikipedia searching (ha! Wikipedia!) and by that point it’s quite obvious. My only problem with these big secrets are they only exist because Barton has purposely withheld this information. The novel could’ve been half the length if you just had Emma admitting things from Chapter 1. That’s probably the main reason I almost DNF’d in those first few chapters, and what initially made me dislike Emma: She probably wouldn’t be hiding names of important characters like Will and what happened at Howard Street so unashamedly.

The Child by Fiona Barton is a quick read that’s late to hook you in, but when it does, you’ll want to keep reading. It’s definitely not as good as The Widow, her first novel, but that’s no reason to give up on the author. I feel the character Kate Waters is a bit of a stand-in for Barton herself, and takes away a lot of my enjoyment of the book. The character of Emma Simmonds, while feeling a bit like Jean Taylor all over again, is what the made the story for me. I do wish the third woman Angela had appeared a little more, but I understood the story wasn’t really about her. I kept reading, trying to work out why these three women were all so connected, and it was wonderfully done. I’d have liked if the husbands—Paul, Steve and Nick—had been touched upon more. It wold have been nice to intersect their stories, especially as I kept expecting Paul to know Will in some way. Damn you, red herrings! I did love Kate’s interactions with Joe the intern. There are two plot twists; one you’ll see coming, and one that will likely shock you. It’s an acceptable follow-up to Barton’s first book, and I look forward to more of her works.

Overall: 3.5/5


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