<<< Introduction >>>
I think every parent has had that heart-stopping moment at least once, whether in a shopping centre, park or supermarket when, for the briefest of seconds, you lose sight of your child.
That few moments can seem like a lifetime as all manner of terrible scenarios flash through your mind - and then mercifully your child wanders, unconcerned, back round the end of the cereal aisle and your worst fears prove to be unfounded.
Can you imagine, then, a worse position to be in than to have your child snatched by what seemed like a kindly stranger - and then for the police to seem reluctant to believe your frantic pleas for help?
<<< Plot >>>
In "Emma's Baby", Emma Turner is all but alone in the world, save her one year-old son, Ritchie. Her parents are dead, she has no real friends to speak of, she's surrounded by anonymous neighbours in her council flat and has had no meaningful contact with her son's father since his birth.
She's near to breaking point. She's struggling to cope alone with her child, feeling like she is trapped on a treadmill of routine and drudgery, depressed by her surroundings.
So when a seemingly harmless and friendly stranger offers coffee and comforting company after a frightening incident on the Underground, her utter vulnerability results in her being perhaps a little too trusting.
And so starts her living nightmare. Her child abducted and the police suspecting that she was the one who harmed him and invented the whole, tragic episode.
Now it looks like the only way to get him back is to find him herself.
<<< Opinion >>>
I thought this was a very engaging read. Told in the third person, from Emma's perspective, I felt real empathy with the main character as she anguished in her suffering. The story described the circumstances which led to her loneliness and despair with flashbacks to the previous year; to her meeting Ritchie's father, her pregnancy, her gradual isolation from her friends and colleagues.
This then meant that the subsequent trust that she showed in the complete stranger that helps her out on the Underground did not seem unrealistic. It would only be natural to latch on to this kindly stranger, warily at first but gradually with more confidence.
The writing was not overly descriptive or flowery but was fairly direct and to the point in the main. There were no superfluous characters and the plot was good and tight. It rattled along at a fair pace and I found that at the end of each chapter, I was anxious to read on and find out what would happen next.
The writer, Abbie Taylor, is a doctor, but has totally avoided the use of medical jargon in her novel. There is a doctor in the book, but she is a reasonably minor personality and her presence is significant to the plot.
Although this initially looks like a fairly chunky read at 461 pages, the font is quite large (11/14½ Sabon) and the chapters span about 20 pages each on average. I read it in a couple of evening - it's not a heavy or difficult read.
<<< Conclusion >>>
For a debut novel, I found this very impressive. It had a good plot, good characterisation and a key character that I could sympathise with. Admittedly, I am particularly emotional and hormonal currently, but I did have a bit of a cry whilst reading this book.
The writing was fluid and precise and it was a most enjoyable read. I'll be looking out for the next book from Abbie Taylor.
Four stars from me for a really good debut novel.
<<< Other Information >>>
RRP £6.99, Amazon from £2.94 plus P&P
Or raid your local library for free!
25-year-old single mum, Emma, is struggling. Her parents are both dead and she has no family. She'd started to make a life for herself in London, but when she finds out she is pregnant, boyfriend Oliver dumps her. Her flat mate moves out leaving her unable to pay the rent and homeless. Now her son Ritchie is 18 months old, she is in a tiny one-bed council flat, penniless and alone. Then one day she faces every mother's nightmare when, after getting the pushchair aboard, the tube doors close before she gets on, whisking baby Ritchie away from her. Emma's baby vanishes into thin air and no one can find him, yet the police don't seem to believe her. But then a revelation about the desperate visit she made to her GP just days before puts her even further in suspicion. Can Emma ever convince the police her child has been taken? Will she ever see him again? Who is the mysterious Rafe who turns up in her life at the same time? How responsible is Emma for his disappearance.
From the very first page of this book I was hooked. It starts at the fateful day at the tube station and I was immediately interested. A similar thing happened to me when I was a toddler, as I got on the bus while my Mum got my brother from his pushchair. I don't have many memories of this age, but I do remember seeing my Mum, chasing the bus, completely panic-stricken. Luckily for us the driver saw her and stopped and all was well, but I have wondered 'what if' and have been extra vigilant with my own children on public transport. As I'd been anxious about this happening to myself, I was able to relate and share Emma's terror from the start.
As the police became involved in the story, it became clear that this was no ordinary crime thriller. While being told in the third person, the story stays with Emma, the victim for the entirety of the book. The police remain minor characters and so we see the whole situation through Emma's eyes only. This was fantastically done as I became so involved with Emma and her plight. I felt torn in two as I empathised so much with her, but with the police's doubts, I was also suspicious. I found this kept me turning the pages and totally intrigued. The only person who seems to believe Emma is Rafe, a man who entered the tube station as the train pulled away. I also couldn't work his involvement in the whole thing out, and while I began the book thinking this was going to be an easy and predictable read, it certainly wasn't and kept me guessing right to the end with it's many twists and turns.
What really made the book stand out to me, however, were the flashbacks to Emma's life before Ritchie goes missing. These were told alternatively to the story of his disappearance and very slowly her life, from meeting Oliver to the desperate day 2 days before her baby vanished, is revealed. This almost becomes like another story, about a decline into postnatal depression. I thought these parts were written superbly, and as someone who did suffer with postnatal depression and was relatively alone in the past with a very young child, could relate to everything that Emma went through.
In the weeks leading up to Ritchie's vanishing, Emma tries to seek help from her Doctor. She visits just days before and admits something which should have alerted her GP instantly to her state of mind and been acted upon, only she doesn't. She refers her to the health visitor, who Emma has never met and is on maternity leave until the next week. The author obviously wanted to tackle communication in multi disciplinary teams and the possible consequences when it fails, something which is currently a big topic and very relevant. It was extremely sad to see how a vulnerable person could stay off the radar, with no one taking any responsibility, whether from incompetence or lack of funding. While this was only a story, I knew this was something that happens every day, which made it all the sadder. I was then rather surprised to see that Abbie Taylor herself is a Doctor. It seems very brave of her to identify the failures of the system she may work in and speak out about it in her novel, if that was her intention.
While I found the book on the whole to be extremely well written, realistic and full of suspense, I do have a small criticism. The story moves to France, and I did find this section a little far fetched. I wouldn't go as far to say that it ruined the book, although it did stand out to me compared to the realism of the rest of the book. This is the only weak area I found in the book and there was a lot of mystery and suspense surrounding the visit to France to carry it off without spoiling the story.
It's seems strange to say I enjoyed this book, as it's quite a traumatic and serious subject, but I certainly found myself hooked on the story, completely drawn in and the pages just turned themselves; I managed to finish the 480 pages over 4 nights. Emma's Baby is Abbie Taylor's first novel and I will certainly be on the look out for more of her work in the future.
Would I recommend Emma's Baby? If you like Women's fiction, realistic characters that are easily related to and a bit of suspense then yes! It's an easy read, perfect for bedtime reading and will keep you guessing until the end. Be prepared to shed a few tears along the way, especially in the final chapters. But inside the great story well told, is a reality and it certainly made me think about how vulnerable we are when we are alone and how terrible postnatal depression actually is.
~ Other Information ~
Emma's Baby by Abbie Taylor
Published by Bantam Books in March 2009