Review: The Perfect Mother by Margaret Leroy

‘I’ve striven to be the perfect mother, wanting to create a perfect childhood for my child. Yet something has gone wrong…’ Catriona has the life she’s always dreamed of: a loving husband, a delightful step-daughter and her own precious little girl, Daisy. When Daisy begins to feel poorly, Catriona seeks help and in doing so, is forced to look to the past and her own traumatic and abusive childhood. When Cat is accused of harming eight-year-old Daisy through Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy, Cat begins to realise that the life she has now is more fragile than she could ever have imagined. (Amazon description)

I read Margaret Leroy’s The Drowning Girl last year, and really loved it, and so have been watching out for her latest book, The Perfect Mother, released this month. I found this another fantastic and compelling read.

As a Mother, Cat was very easy to relate to. She is anxious and worried about Daisy, but no-one is taking her concerns seriously. I felt indignant and angry for her and it got me thinking about the power authority has over us, and how by misinterpreting or twisting our words, we could all find ourselves in an unjust and vulnerable position.

I was a little concerned at the speed with which Cat became a suspect, I find it hard to imagine this would be the case in real life. However, this did add a different dimension to the book, where I became suspicious of Cat myself. As the book is told in the first person, I started to feel the vagueness and unfairness was deliberate, as we were seeing things as Cat see’s them, not as a logical person. This meant that I wasn’t sure what was going to happen, up until the end.

As well as the story regarding her daughter Daisy, there is a sub-plot involving Cat’s own mother and her relationship with her. This was an interesting and mysterious thread, which tied in nicely with the rest of the story by the end.

I started this book on a 2 hour train journey, and I don’t think I looked up once as I became so engrossed. Margaret Leroy’s writing is so completely compelling, I just want to keep turning the pages. Previously a social worker, it’s clear Margaret knows and understands people, and it’s this that make her stories so vividly realistic. I finished The Perfect Mother in one day, and would recommend it to anyone who likes general Women’s fiction with an air of mystery and pages that turn themselves. While I didn’t quite enjoy it as much as The Drowning Girl, I certainly found it a great read. Fast becoming one of my favourite author’s of this kind of fiction right now, I’ll be eagerly awaiting her new book.

NB: This book is also titled Postcards From Berlin in other countries

My Rating:4/5

Book Review: The Drowning Girl by Margaret Leroy

A haunted child. A desperate mother. An unspeakable truth. ‘She’s my daughter, but in some weird way I feel she isn’t really my child’. Young single mum Grace is drowning. Her little girl Sylvie is distant, troubled and prone to violent tantrums which the child psychiatrists blame on Grace. But Grace knows there’s something more to what’s happening to Sylvie. There has to be. Travelling from the London suburbs to the west coast of Ireland, Grace and Sylvie embark on a journey of shocking discovery, forcing Grace to question everything she believes in and changing both their lives forever.

I actually grabbed this book in haste and wasn’t really sure it was my kind of thing. However, to read, I it was far from what I actually expected, and I was entranced from the very first page. The Drowning Girl turned out to be a fantastic ghost story, touching on the super natural and reincarnation, full of suspense and with a murder mystery thrown in for good measure.

The book is told in the first person from Grace. I identified and related to her from the very first page. The book begins at another child’s birthday party. grace is the only single mother there, she feels intimidated and jealous of the more prosperous parents, and her daughter, Sylvie chooses this moment to have a huge tantrum/panic attack when some water splashes her face. Every feeling the author gives Grace is one I have had myself. She describes the people and events so perfectly you can place yourself right there. I was hooked straight away.

Grace is desperate to be close to her daughter Sylvie, and is constantly pushed away and hurt by her 4 year olds bizarre aloofness. It was easy to feel Graces pain at her daughters rejection, and understand her becoming angry. While I empathised completely with Grace, it was still impossible to dislike Sylvie, an enigma from the start, yet immediately gains sympathy from the reader. She is vulnerable, other worldly, beautiful and clearly very frightened. I loved this little girl right away, and wanted to just give her a hug myself. She is fascinating, and her relationship with her mother heart breaking.

Graces frustration with the professionals and friends around her is contagious. The author has a fantastic skill of depicting every character, no matter who small, with absolute realism. Alongside the brilliance with wich she gives Graces voice, it’s very easy to become part of the story and has you reeling at the unjustness of people dismissing and pre judging Grace because of her age, marital status and class and something I can completely relate to.

As Grace looks for alternative answers, after being shunned by psychiatrists and having Sylvie expelled from nursery, she meets Adam, a psychologist with interest in the paranormal. Taking Sylvie to Ireland, things become more sinister than they imagined. I loved this part of the book the most. In Ireland the suspense is magnified. It’s not an in your face and violent suspense, more a gentle spookiness which has you forgetting to breathe. The story unravels slowly and deliciously. Again the authors descriptive skill for both places and people reads beautifully.

There are some parts of the book which are a tad predictable. Grace and Adams relationship, for example, starts off with Adam clearly only interested in Sylvie and his research and him pressurising Sylvie horrifically and desperately. In Ireland things mellow, however, and romance is ever so slightly in the air. While I’m not sure if romance would be my top priority in Grace’s position, it’s easy to see how it happens here and it’s written to be subtle and inoffensive, so doesn’t become unrealistic or sexy, which would have cheapened and spoilt the book entirely for me.

I also correctly predicted a big ‘twist’ too. Not actually while reading the book, but after putting the book down to do some housework. An hour later, while hoovering the stairs, so haunted by this story and still thinking about it, it came to me. It wasn’t predictable enough to ruin the rest of the book, there are other twists and turns I didn’t predict and spent most of the book sitting upright in suspense, devouring each word and desperate to know what was going on. However I do feel a bit more work could have gone into this event/character to make it less predictable and more thrilling.

I finished this book in less than 24 hours. I managed 100 pages in a busy soft play place before even looking up, a great achievement giving the noise of over 50 kids! I found it to be one of those books which completely surprise you, engrossing you from the first page.

I’m not sure which genre to place this book. It’s not a crime thriller, yet it has a murder mystery. It’s not horror, but it’s ghostly and other worldly. It’s not real life, yet it feels as if it could be, at no time did any of the story feel contrived or fantasy and it left a lot of ‘what Ifs?’ in my head. If I had to liken this book to another author I have read, then I would say Jodi Piccoult, in the way she examines human relationships in extreme traumatic circumstances, but without the heavy factual language I find her books get bogged down with. I loved my sisters keeper, by Piccoult , for example, yet found the text book style medical and legal jargon a struggle. I found this book to be far easier to read than Piccoult, with more focus on the character, rather than the situation, and much more enjoyable. Leroy manages to make the idea of reincarnation seem a real possibility, no matter what your thoughts or beliefs are in this area.

I loved the lead character Grace, and her daughter Sylvie, and despite the slightly predictable parts I thoroughly enjoyed this book and couldn’t put it down. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who likes a slightly gothic suspense, with a very original story.

(Also published with the title Yes My Darling Daughter in the US.)

My Rating: 4.5