REVIEW: THE CHILD, BY FIONA BARTON

As an old house is demolished in a gentrifying section of London, a workman discovers a tiny skeleton, buried for years. For journalist Kate Waters, it’s a story that deserves attention. She cobbles together a piece for her newspaper, but at a loss for answers, she can only pose a question: Who is the Building Site Baby?

As Kate investigates, she unearths connections to a crime that rocked the city decades earlier: A newborn baby was stolen from the maternity ward in a local hospital and was never found. Her heartbroken parents were left devastated by the loss.

But there is more to the story, and Kate is drawn—house by house—into the pasts of the people who once lived in this neighborhood that has given up its greatest mystery. And she soon finds herself the keeper of unexpected secrets that erupt in the lives of three women—and torn between what she can and cannot tell…

My Thoughts: Slowly the three women who are central to the story in The Child are revealed to us in bits and pieces. We do not know what, if anything, connects them. But they are all struck by the news of the infant. A baby that has been buried on the site for a number of years. The story takes us from the present to the past through alternating narrators, who show us moments in their lives and offer up thoughts, feelings, and clues to their histories.

Emma Massingham Simmonds is struggling every day, her mind a mess of anxieties, dark thoughts, and nightmares. Her husband Paul takes care of her, and she works at home as a book editor. But her conflicted relationship with her mother Jude seems to be at the heart of her emotional angst, and she has dark secrets that come to her in nightmares.

Angela Irving is still heartbroken over her lost infant Alice. Her husband and other children have given up on her constant grief. But she hangs onto her hope. Something about the buried baby calls to her.

Jude, Emma’s mother, seems worried about what might be discovered about that baby, and her mind flits to memories of her great love for a man named Charlie…and then her relationship with a professor named Will Burnside, whom she cannot forget. She seems to blame Emma for losing these “loves of her life.”

Kate Waters, the reporter, is such an interesting character who searches for answers, interviews people who lived in the neighborhood where the baby was found, and gradually finds herself drawn more and more to the women who all seem to have a personal interest in the story. Her ferocious pursuit despite discouraging moments kept me intrigued, as she met with numerous characters, many of whom were troubling and sometimes unreliable.

I loved watching how she pushed ahead to find the answers…and then, just when I thought she had it all figured out, a startling twist turned everything upside down. Suddenly, out of the confusion, the clarity came. An unputdownable novel that earned 5 stars.

***

REVIEW: NELL, BY NANCY THAYER

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Nell and Marlow St. John had been a golden couple: he, a famous director, and she, a talented actress. Could their life get any better? But then the children came along. First, Jeremy, and two years later, Hannah.

Life gradually changed for them, and then, unexpectedly, Marlow left Nell for her best friend Charlotte. In some ways, she felt more betrayed by Charlotte than she did by Marlow.

Five years later, Nell is still alone, struggling financially, working in a high end boutique in Cambridge, and moving from one lover to another, never seeming to find The One. She just wants to love someone, and have him love her in return. Is that too much to ask?

When Nell’s boss Elizabeth asks her to manage the boutique on Nantucket for the summer, it seems impossible, but when Marlow agrees to take the children for two months, Nell sighs with relief.

Finding her groove on the island comes quickly, and almost immediately, she meets Andy Martindale. They quickly connect and he seems to be everything Nell has been looking for.

But why, after almost three months on the island, spending every free moment with him, has Andy not talked about a future together? Could her boss’s warnings have been true? That Andy is unable to make a commitment?

Nell is a very introspective tale narrated by the MC, a divorced woman struggling with single parenting, supporting herself, and trying to find love again. The story is set in New England, mainly in Arlington, Cambridge, and Nantucket, sometime in the 1980s. The themes are familiar, but Nell’s voice is very appealing. She could seem a bit narcissistic, focused on her issues constantly, but remember that this was set in a time before social networking, online groups, and all that those connections can bring. Isolation is more complete in such an era, and instead of writing a blog, a woman like Nell is forced to introspection during her time alone.

Which is why this story engaged me. Nell’s dilemma is an age old one, not easily corrected, and without the connections most of us take for granted these days. As I headed toward the book’s end, I suspected that Nell’s solution would probably be one of acceptance. And living in the moment rather than projecting into the future. But could there be surprises ahead?

While the book was not my favorite by this author, it had the ingredients I have come to count on: delving into familiar issues, while showing the reader what the life of the characters looks like, from all the messy details of daily life to the flaws and foibles that make us able to relate to them. A little predictable, but comforting, this one earned 4 stars.