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I chose this book from the new titles section at my library as it had a sticker on it saying it was a book group choice which often indicates a well written read which makes you think.
It took me a while to get into the book but after a few chapters I was hooked. It is the story of the abduction of Rachel, the beautiful and much loved daughter of single mum Celia who works hard to support the two of them and chapters alternate between her experience and that of the abductor, Ron, who mends vacuum cleaners for a hobby and for a living and his unwitting accomplice, Nancy, herself a victim of child abuse.
Ron is clearly a paedophile although the book stops short of any explicit sexual reference at all so don't be put off by the subject matter. To me the title Helpless describes all the protagonists - mum Celia who is desperate to find her daughter, Rachel herself who as a child is helpless to resist her abduction and then the lies told to manipulate her into accepting her incarceration, Nancy who feels herself unloveable and unable to withstand Ron's machinations and Ron himself who is battling his own inner demons.
The story is gripping but it is above all the quality of the writing and the steady pace at which events unravel that kept my interest. Gowdy is a Canadian writer and I am keen to read another title of hers to see if it is as good as this one.
Highly recommended - and I wouldn't be surprised to see this novel turned into a film.
I'll start by saying that 'Helpless' by Barbara Gowdy isn't a book that I'd usually choose to read. I am a self-confessed chick-lit fan and I don't tend to read anything that makes me think too much. What I tend to look for in a book is something light than will entertain me during my commute to work, brighten up my day with a bit of escapism and not require too much thought and concentration. However, I am a member of a book group and this does force me to add a bit more variety to my reading list.
'Helpless' begins by introducing us to Rachel, a 'exceptionally beautiful' nine year old girl and her single mother Celia, who is working two jobs as she struggles to bring up her daughter alone. They have been approached by a man from a modelling agency and are discussing whether this is something that Rachel should do - her bond to her mother is illustrated by her insistence that the money would help them, but her mother's instincts are to protect her daughter and keep her away from that type of spotlight. At the same time, there is a shadowy figure in the background watching Rachel...
When the whole town is struck by a power-cut, Rachel disappears. She is abducted by Ron, a vacuum-cleaner repair man, who has somehow managed to convince himself that she is his responsibility and, as he believes that she is being abused at home, that he has to take her to 'keep her safe'. But what are his real intentions towards her?
The story is fast-paced and flows well, with strong character development. You can easily visualise all of the major characters and, even the ones that you are not supposed to like (i.e. Ron) are portrayed in a way which makes you feel a little bit of empathy towards them. The story jumps back in time in places to give you more background into the character's lives, and provide some explanation for the way that they act in the present day. It is also told from different character's perceptions - this is always in the third person so the consistent voice is that of the storyteller, but one chapter will focus on Ron, another on his girlfriend Nancy, another on Celia and so on.
One of the reasons I wasn't sure I wanted to read this book is that the subject matter of child abduction is always going to be disturbing, however well the book is written. As a mother, one of my worst nightmares is that somebody will take my little boy away from me, so I could definitely sympathise with Celia's anguish and her determination to do whatever it takes to find her daughter. I definitely didn't expect to feel any empathy with Rachel's abducters but the way that this book is written means that it doesn't feel as black and white as you would expect it too. I did hate Ron as a character because of what he did, but at the same time I did feel some sympathy towards him because he had managed to convince himself that he was doing it all for the right reasons, even though it obviously was completely wrong.
Overall, I enjoyed this book far more than I expected to. I'm not actually sure that 'enjoyed' is the right word, as I did find it disturbing and uncomfortable to read at times, but it was a book that kept me turning the pages and wanting to find out what happened next. It was written in a style which I found very accessible and easy to read, and wasn't unsettling enough to give me sleepless nights, just to make me think. Maybe sometimes I do need a break from fluffy, chick-lit escapism and I would recommend this book to others looking for something that is a bit different.
Rachel Fox is a true child beauty. She is mixed race so her skin is a light brown shade that contrasts amazingly with her blonde ringleted hair and blue eyes. Her single mother, Celia, knows she is gorgeous and adores her to bits.
Everything in their life is normal for a hard working, low income, single parent family until one day; Rachel is snatched from right outside her home. She is not just snatched by anyone though; she is snatched by Ron - a calculating pedophile who thinks he has fallen in love with her.
I struggled to decide whether to read this or not for a few reasons. I knew the subject matter would be something I might find extremely hard to read about and I knew I might be upset by the content. My own daughter is also called Rachel and I suspected this would impact on my emotions through the story as well. However I went ahead and brought it after reading a piece on it in the news.
Without wanting to give anything away here (and to be honest I don't think anyone in their right mind wants to read anything to hardcore under this subject matter), although there are some chapters that will upset you due to the circumstances Rachel is being held in, there is nothing overly explicit in the writing that would cause offense. I was extremely glad of this but the content still disturbs me. It is all too easy to see the real life events this could have been taken from had it not been a work of fiction.
Ron is described so easily that I could imagine his disgusting image straight away and even from the start when he first wanted to drive past a school - just to look - I wanted to hurt him. The book really did bring about a physical feeling of wanting revenge on this man and this was before he had even done anything. Barbara Gowdy described him with enough normalcy to make you see him as a real person but also the monster lurking underneath.
Rachel was equally well described and her innocence and beauty were talked about over and over in different aspects in order to impress upon the reader her hold over Ron. It really disturbed me in some parts when her actions were described after she had been abducted and it made me realise that kids are truly accepting of information they are given by an adult and this also alarmed me.
However the story is told really well, switching between chapters as it switched between characters so you get to know each one deep down, from Rachel through to Ron and Rachel's mother as well as Nancy - Ron's girlfriend.
It is an alarming subject matter but it is very well written and had an amazing ending that really made me stop and think about how I really felt about all the characters and it is something I highly recommend to be read.