The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

‘And just like that, the walls of my carefully constructed second life come tumbling down.’

Helena Pelletier is driving home with her two young daughters when she hears the news:

‘Jacob Holbrook has escaped from prison. The Marsh King.’

Jacob Holbrook is Helena’s father, and his escape from a maximum-security prison concerns Helena.  Helena believes that she is responsible for Jacob’s imprisonment and believes that she and her daughters are in danger.

Helena has invested a lot of time and effort in keeping her past to herself.  She’s not even told her husband Stephen.  But now that her father has escaped, she needs to face the past.  She arrives home, but before she has a chance to tell Stephen, the police arrive to question her.  They think that she might know where her father might be headed.  Stephen is understandably shocked, and decides to take Helena and their daughters Iris and Mari to his parents for safety.  Helena refuses to leave: she tells Stephen she needs to help the police.

Helena’s mother was a teenager when Jacob Holbrook abducted her.  He wanted a woman, so he took one.  He was able, because of his knowledge of the marsh, to keep the outside world at a distance for some fourteen years.  Helena had no contact with the outside world until she was twelve.

‘I was born two years into my mother’s captivity.  She was three weeks shy of seventeen.’

‘But I won’t tell you my mother’s name.  Because this isn’t her story, it’s mine.’

The story moves between past and present. Helena tracks her father.  She’s sure that she can find him: he taught her everything she knows about the marsh. And while Helena remembers the past, and wonders whether she has any future, she’s paying careful attention to the signs her father is leaving.

I can’t write more about the story without introducing spoilers.  And this is a novel that works well because of the issues it raises and the way in which the story unfolds.  Recommended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

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