Little Disasters by Sarah Vaughan

‘What would you do?’

Paediatrician Liz Trenchard and Jess Curtis met when they were both part of a group preparing for the birth of their first babies. They have remained friends, and Liz is surprised when she is called to the ER in the London hospital where she works to see that Jess’s baby daughter (and third child) Betsey is the patient.  Surprise quickly becomes concern when Liz’s examination of Betsey reveals a head injury.  And there is something about Jess’s explanation that just doesn’t make align with the injury.

Liz has known Jess for a decade.  She sees Jess as a capable stay-at-home-mother-of-three.  Surely not a woman likely to harm her baby.

But the Jess Liz (and their friends) see is not the way Jess sees herself.  Jess is overwhelmed.  She has two sons aged eight and ten, and her husband Ed works long hours to support the family.  Jess has set impossibly high standards for herself, and when she cannot meet those standards, she punishes herself.

Liz, and the other doctors involved, can only act on what they have seen.  Social Services are called in, and Jess’s contact with Betsey is both limited and supervised.  Her sister Martha moves in to help.

We can see the pressure that Jess is under, the intrusive feelings she is experiencing, her need to try to control.  It is possible, surely, that a mother under such pressure could harm her child.  And what should Liz do?

Ms Vaughan maintains the tension in this story.  I turned the pages, wondering how it would end, wondering how Betsey was injured.  There is a twist in the end that I have mixed feelings about, but other readers may find this twist more emotionally satisfying.

The novel covers several important issues, and ones that many exhausted mothers of newborn babies will be able to relate to.  How do we know when we need help, and who can we ask?

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Atria/Emily Bestler Books for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes. 

This novel is due to be published on the 18th of August 2020.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith