One of the most haunting and confronting novels I’ve read this year.
‘It was four o’clock in the morning.’
A young woman, in a dressing gown and slippers, walks into the Sydney Children’s Hospital, past the nurses’ station, into the nursery. She picks up a baby girl, places her gently into the shopping bag she has brought with her, together with a toy giraffe from the nursery and leaves. She walks back down the corridor, carrying the shopping bag with the giraffe’s head visible. CCTV footage shows the woman walking into the car park, to an old Corolla. She holds the baby gently for a moment, and then places the baby in a baby capsule and drives off. The CCTV footage ends with the car turning left, at the lights, heading towards Parramatta Road. This is neither the beginning nor the end of the story.
Who is this woman? Who is the baby? What is the story? Much of the story is narrated to us by Med Atley, via his letter to a Family Court judge. Med Atley is the father of the woman, Donna-Faye – known as ‘Fat’, in the dressing gown. The reason for Med’s letter, and the letter written by his other daughter Kat, becomes clear as the story unfolds.
The story itself is bleak: bad luck, difficult circumstances, questionable choices, and tragedy each impact on Donna-Faye and other family members. As the story unfolds in Med’s words, I found myself talking to the book: making suggestions, wishing that Donna-Faye had more (and different) choices. Med’s narrative has the effect of slowing the pace of the story down, of seeing some of the connections that only a parent can see in respect of their own children. Could more have been done to support Donna-Faye? And what about her children?
It’s difficult to write more about this story without spoiling it for a first-time reader. The issues it touches on are confronting. While I found this novel very well written, there were a couple of aspects that jarred. One of those aspects relates to one of the cultural issues raised in conjunction with a refugee-related element of the story. Others may read it differently, but for me there was already enough going on in the story without that addition.
While I did not enjoy this novel, I was deeply moved by it, by the circumstances described, and the people depicted. I closed the book wondering what the future held for each of the main characters. And what was the ending? You’ll need to read it for yourself. The issues are complex, and very real. A two day read some weeks ago that is still haunting me.