The Night Child by Anna Quinn caught me by surprise and took off racing from the first page so that I read half the book at my first sitting. But it is not a thriller, it was simply that I didn’t want to stop reading. I confess to selecting the book on my Kindle having forgotten the book blurb; perhaps I should do that more often.
Nora Brown teaches teenagers about Shakespeare and poetry; so she knows about the imagination, imagery and dreams. Then one day at work, floating in front of her she sees the face of a blue-eyed girl, a face without a body. Quinn writes about Nora’s fear, panic, guilt, shame, with an insight into the private mind and this made me believe Nora from page one. Seeking answers, she talks to a psychiatrist and so starts an unravelling of Nora’s past, a past buried so deep she had no idea of its existence. As the revelations pick up pace, she must deal with a damaged teenager at school, decide whether to confront her unfaithful husband Paul, and reassure her six-year-old daughter Fiona. Stress layered on top of stress, which makes the child’s face appear more often. Soon she hears the accompanying voice too.
Why have Nora’s difficulties started now? Is there a connection with Fiona, who has just celebrated her sixth birthday? Is the trigger to do with Nora’s own sixth birthday? At the root of it all, perhaps not surprisingly, is the death of her mother and the subsequent abandonment by her father. The only constant in her life is her younger brother James. Raised by their grandfather in Ireland, Irish myths and Catholic saints are woven throughout Nora’s story. The present day action takes place between Thanksgiving in November 1996 and February 1997.
This is the sort of book which makes you think ‘please not that’ and turn the page to see if you have guessed correctly. The subject is not new but Quinn approaches it from a fresh angle which shows how the impact of childhood unhappiness can be repressed only to reappear with a vengeance decades later. I liked Nora. She is not a victim. At first she is afraid she is going ‘crazy’. Her primal instinct is to protect her own child, she constantly reassures Fiona that she loves her ‘beyond the stars and back’. But as the memories begin to return thick and fast in her sessions with psychiatrist David, things also unravel at home as Paul accuses her of being ‘a zombie’. David reminds her that she is in control but to ‘be careful not to scare yourself’. Where will the memories lead her and will she be able to cope?
I really enjoyed this book. It came as a bolt out of the blue after having read a series of historical novels. It is a powerful and sensitive portrayal of emotional damage and a person’s capacity to face it and recover. This is a debut, but I would never have guessed, it is written with a steady hand and full heart. The juxtaposition of Quinn’s beautiful prose, and her subject matter, is startling.
‘The Night Child’ by Anna Quinn [UK: Blackstone]
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THE NIGHT CHILD by @annaquinn55 #bookreview https://wp.me/p5gEM4-36G via @SandraDanby