Saturday 4 August 2007

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

I picked this book up just after I finished Suite Francaise expecting a light on the brain easy on the eyes read. What was I thinking? The book I read after a cracking great one always flounders a bit.

It is 1964 and there is a blizzard. Norah Henry goes into labour. David, her husband and a doctor, delivers a beautiful baby boy, Paul. Quite inexplicably, Norah then proceeds to deliver a second baby, Phoebe. Upon delivery it is obvious to David (because he is a doctor, you know) that Phoebe has Down's Syndrome. David whisks her away without Norah ever meeting her and hands the baby to his nurse, Caroline. And that's just the first chapter.

Therein begins the life of a family with one big, giant, huge, horrible secret right in the middle of it. This doesn't bode well for the future. The rest of the book is spent chronicling the downward spiral of the relationships of David with Norah and Paul, his son. You can bet it didn't go well. The vast gap that a secret this big can create means Paul & Norah's marriage is doomed.

A couple of things don't sit quite right with me. You would think Norah would know she was carrying twins. Even in 1964 (the same year I was born), they could hear 2 heart beats. We did have some modern conveniences back in those olden days. And these twins were nearly full term. Norah would have been enormous. I'm talking bigger than a truck enormous! Secondly, I was surprised that Norah was the one who had the affairs. I would have thought that Paul's guilt would have driven him to someone else long before Norah. Lastly, Norah was young (in her 20s) when she gave birth and whilst Down's Syndrome is not unheard at this age, it is extremely rare. It is far more common in older mothers (over 40s).

Those things aside, Edwards does very well ensuring that the life of Caroline and Phoebe is not sugary and sentimental. Whilst things go a damn sight better for them than the Henry family, money is still tight and the relationship between Caroline and Al, her truck driver boyfriend, is not perfect. I could see how a high moral tone could have easily turned the book into an unlikely tale of good things happen to good people. Instead it was just a far tale of life happens to good people.

The ending was a bit anticlimactic. But then so is life. Norah and Paul ultimately meet Phoebe but due to her condition the impact on her is naught. They are just people she has met. Not a long lost mother and brother. The knife plunges deeper.

I like the book and the first 150 pages or so I couldn't put it down. The tale slows as we go through the excruciating pain of watching the family fall apart and in particular the relationship between Paul and David lacks some passion. Maybe that's the point.

This should have been a sad and anger inducing tale. But I never shed a tear and I struggled to have any emotions whatsoever for Norah largely due to the fact that I didn't like her as a character. I recommend the book but it is not in my top 50. A good beach read, I reckon!

1 comment:

Janell said...

Your astute observation; "Therein begins the life of a family with one big, giant, huge, horrible secret right in the middle of it. This doesn't bode well for the future." Aren't you glad Smitty made you tell Marc the truth about the meat? :)