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Monster Love - Carol Topolski

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Carol Topolski / Hardcover / 272 Pages / Book is published 2008-01-31 by Fig Tree

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      22.05.2012 14:31
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      The story of a couple who refused to be parted by anything

      I cant remember exactly where I got this book. I think I swiped it from work which had a small library. Do I regret doing so? We'll see!
      Monster Love is essentially the story of Samantha, the child of Brendan and Sherilyn Gutteridge. Brendan and Sherilyn move into The Crescent where they quickly become the focus of nosy neighbours, especially Charlotte. Lonely since her husband died and with her only grand-daughter across the world in Australia she takes an extra interest in the now pregnant Sherilyn and then the new baby Samantha. The elusive Gutteridges spurn all attempts at friendliness and live in their own little bubble. Then one day after 6 months Charlotte realises she hasn't seen the child for 6 months. After 2 visits by a social worker which amount to nothing, a call by the police investigating a burglary go into the house to find the full horror of events. The rest of the book then concerns itself with events as Brendan and Sherilyn go on trial for the murder of Samantha. It's not a spoiler when I say she was murdered as its pretty obvious right from the beginning.

      The book is actually broken up into chapters, each narrated by someone close to the tragedy or family members. This includes the policeman who initially found Samantha's body, the neighbour, the social worker, members of Brendan and Sherilyns family and the defendants themselves.
      This is obviously not an original one of doing this I've seen it used several times, but I like the use of it here, it allows you to concentrate on each of the narrators instead of jumping back and forwards in one chapter trying to remember what what someone had just said whilst trying to read what someone else is saying!
      As mentioned already each chapter is written by a separate person and apart from a couple of the last chapters its written as if the person is talking directly to you and telling you the story from their perspective. Obviously its from male and female characters perspective and they do talk differently as would each characters. You would therefore expect each to have something unique each one. Topolski manages this somewhat, but if you just read something generic for each chapter it probably would be very difficult to guess what gender the narrator was, at even at points who exactly is speaking.

      There are some stand-out characters, in particular the policeman who finds the body of Samantha, it really is possible to see his breakdown happen and empathise with all his feelings. There's also the social worker who brings up feelings of having seen this all before, Sherilyns father who reveals a shocking secret and the neighbour Charlotte who suffers feelings of guilt and extreme guilt.

      Brendan and Sherilyn are obviously very noticeable as well. It's very hard to empathise with either of them. They definitely have some traits of being psychopaths or sociopaths and reading their views and why they murdered her. To read that they viewed this innocent child as something that was there to try and break them up is shocking, as is their decision to go to South America to escape her grasp. They are almost one person who know what each other is thinking and feeling and this is demonstrated even when in prison separately which leads to the somewhat daft conclusion.
      They are such shocking characters that as you read the other characters stories you search for little clues as to why they could be the way they are, and unusually there isn't really anything which is very unusual, many writers seek to discover why the protagonist is the way he/she is. I'm sorry to say that having a sibling who becomes the favourite is no excuse and if that's the kind of thing Topolski wants us to believe can cause this then that's just childish writing.

      There's also a couple of themes or issues that keep popping up in the book, the first is alcohol. At least 3 of the characters turn to alcohol to deal with what happens and it seems to pop up with Brendan and Sherilyn quite often. Then there's the issue of Brendan's homosexuality, we know he was having a relationship with a man before Sherilyn, and he has a relationship with a man in prison. I don't understand why this is in the book, there's no mention of it being an issue in what happens, nor does it appear to have shaped his personality, so again I don't understand it. I can only guess that Topolski wants us to dislike Brendan or make him seem a lesser person because he has relationships with men and women. In this enlightened days I would hope this wouldn't happen!

      There's so much I could say about this book and what happens, particularly the story of Sherilyn, who's name isn't Sherilyn by the way, it's Linda which she discarded after leaving home, but then you wouldn't need to read it yourself! Did I enjoy the book? You know, I'm not really sure i can say either way, as you might have noticed above I've found some of it to be a bit immature. What I did find was that I had this morbid fascination with knowing what happened and trying to find out why they behaved the way they did, this was perhaps piqued by the fact I'm studying forensic psychology. The problem is that I got no answers and very few hints so I was left frustrated. I was also really surprised to find out the writer is a psychoanalyst because this book is at the level of Psychology 101!
      It's a good read for the shocking events and the mind boggling reasons why this happened but prepare to feel a little frustrated!

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      23.01.2012 15:35
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      A literary hotchpotch - an author focusing on technique at the expense of a good read

      OFFICIAL BOOK DESCRIPTION: 'Brendan and Sherilyn. A young couple in love. Each has met their soul mate, and nothing can come between them. In fact, the Gutteridges are so wrapped up in each other that their neighbours barely know them, despite the woman next door's nosy curiosity. Their families and their work colleagues see only the perfect couple in the perfect home, the perfect car crouching in the drive. And then a baby is born - contaminating this pristine life in which there is only room for two. But they find the ideal solution. What may be one couple's happy ending is everyone else's indescribable nightmare...Told through the Gutteridges' voices, and those of their families, neighbours, and those who will come across them in the aftermath, this perverse love story hurtles to the heart of evil - the evil that could be anyone's next door neighbour.'

      LENGTH: 272 pages

      MY VIEW: I started with such high hopes for this novel but these quickly disappeared in the face of what seemed a very laboured work. The author is a practising psychoanalytic psychotherapist and, indeed, the novel comes across almost like someone ticking off an academic check-list of psychological profiling.

      I'm not giving anything away (as it's part of the book blurb and obvious from the first chapters) that the novel involves the death of a child. And there we launch into a clichéd account of their backgrounds in order to gain an insight into how/why this happened ... a history of past family abuse (although this is skirted around in the most unsatisfactory way) ... a broken family ... the obligatory absence of affection during the perpetrators' childhoods. It's all there, yet it doesn't add up to much. And the reason it doesn't is because, in real life, people are far more complex (and unknowable) than this - something which, one would hope, a psychoanalyst author would be able to convey (rather than trawling through the textbook of psychoanalysis).

      About five chapters in I was bored of the whole thing - and this is largely to do with the fact that each chapter is written from a different character's perspective; from the nosy neighbour to the work colleagues of both parties; the police officer who dealt with the case; the parents of Brendan and Sherilyn etc. Basically, it's a constant re-hashing of what we already know. And whilst there's something to be said for alternating chapters from different characters which are returned to throughout, a novel that's made up entirely of different voices comes across more like a book of short stories around the same theme.

      For those worrying this book may be disturbing or heavy, it isn't. The 'abuse' itself isn't described (it touches on a couple of pinches and a few cigarette burns). In fact, it's more a case of frightening neglect by a couple so in love with each other that they have no time for their child - and the reason why they went ahead with the pregnancy is so contrived it defies belief.

      In the absence of any insight into what the child herself experiences, the reader is left feeling somewhat ambivalent. After all, to truly despise characters (and their motives), it helps to have an insight of the victim's perspective. I've read far more shocking books which adeptly describe abuse without sensationalising it but which convey to the reader what it must feel like to grow up with abusive parents. As such, because there wasn't any real depth to what Samantha experienced, I found myself boring of the repetitive nature of the novel.

      After a while, it came across like an exercise in creative writing. Yes, we get the point that Topolski can write in different tone's of voice. But without a compelling plot line, it fell flat. By the time you hear a minor character described from the perspective of three different characters, it really wears thin.

      And then, just as the repetitiveness was about to cause me to throw the book across the room, it took a turn for the surreal. I won't give anything away but, suffice it to say, the book, previously rooted in the blah perspectives of each character took a strange and ultimately dissatisfying turn. I concluded the book thinking, 'What the **** was that all about?' - never a good thing to think when you've given over a few days' reading time to a novel!

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        29.08.2010 03:26
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        A rather strange book

        Brendan and Linda Gutteridge are both making their way in the world after feeling unloved as children. They meet at work and instantly feel like they have found their soul mates and embark on an intense relationship. They marry and Sherilyn (as Linda prefers to call herself) soon falls pregnant. The pregnancy and birth of a healthy daughter should be a happy time in a young couples life but this pair had never planned to have children going as far as Brendan having a vasectomy in a bid to make sure there were no surprises.

        They see Samantha or "The Girl" as they call her as an inconvenience and their indifference to her soon turns to neglect. A concerned neighbour alerts social services to the fact that Samantha has not been seen for some time but she uncovers nothing amiss. It is only when the police are called that a gruesome discovery is made but it is too late for the little girl who has met a horrible end. What could turn a seemingly perfect couple into the type of people who could callously allow their daughter to die?

        Monster Love, like so many modern books, is written in many different voices and I found the fact that so many people are telling their own version of the story to be off-putting. The book opens with a neighbour describing the family's life before Samantha died and goes through the trial to the aftermath. Each person furthers the chronology of the story and the people narrating the story include family members, professionals, jurors and the couple themselves.

        Carol Toposlski is a practicing psychoanalyst so has more experience than most of us at delving into the minds of others and learning about dark secrets but I still did not feel that the book adequately explained how or why Samantha died. The childhood of both Brendan and Sherilyn is explored and while both had some painful events in their childhoods there was nowhere like the kind of abuse or brutality than you would expect from a callous child killer. The book did explore the relationship between Brendan and Sherilyn, the type of obsessive love where nobody else has a look in, not even their own child but I found the relationship unconvincing.

        We are used to seeing child killers as monsters and Carol Toposlki attempts to show the human beings behind the headlines. It is a really interesting perspective to take on the subject of child abuse as we are used to hearing the voices of the victims and their families while anything a killer has to say is ignored. However I found that the book fell short of answering the question of why the couple acted in the way that they did, the couple themselves are fairly unsympathetic people as you can imagine and not easy to empathise with and the fact that they were so one dimensional did not help.

        Overall "Monster Love" was a reasonably good read, although the subject matter was sometimes unpleasant most of the book focused on the trial so was not too gritty. It's a book that is easy to read with short chapters, just don't expect brilliance from it.

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          21.02.2010 20:54
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          .

          One of my favourite books of all time is Lionel Shriver's "We Need to Talk about Kevin"; at the time of reading it, it had such an impact on me that to this day, I still can remember the story as vividly as when I first read it.

          "Monster Love" is written in a similar vein to Shriver's book. Sherilyn and Brendon Gutteridge appear on the surface to be a normal professional couple, but scratch the surface but darker things lurk beneath the surface. Their love for each other borders on obsessive; they only have time for each other, never interact with neighbours, friends or family and live in their own world, only socialising when it might progress either of their careers. Early on, the reader is aware that this couple are in fact monsters that they had a daughter who they killed.

          This story is told from many different points of view to explain the strange relationship that the couple had, what lead up to the events and even what they were like as children, as well as the point of view of Brendan and Sherilyn themselves. What on earth could cause these two seemingly ordinary hard working couple to murder their own daughter?


          Story development & Characters

          I have read a few real accounts of child abuse that have been popular over the years, and found them to be a type of book that I just find too depressing to read, and have since avoided. However, reading the back of this book piqued my interest and reminded me slightly of the aforementioned Lionel Shriver book. Even the writing style is reminiscent of Shriver's narrator, Eva Khatchadourian's, letter writing to her husband.
          There are many characters in this book whose opinions on the Gutteridges shape this story, and you would be mistaken if you thought this would make the story confusing. In fact, I liked this, as it added an element of mystery to the couple; slowly revealing more and more about their characters. Each character has their own chapter, from the nosey neighbour, to the work colleague, from lawyer to juror and all have a distinctive voice so it is never confusing. Each chapter is titled with the character name, and within the first page, the reader knows exactly what their relationship was to the couple in question.

          Another reason why the multiple view point works is because it highlights the media attention that always centres on this type of story; how red top newspapers are constantly out for blood and how the general public is hungry for any piece of information about such a monstrous couple. The mixture of opinions makes you realise how such a story could be completely believable in our modern society, and I read it sure that it must've been based on real events.

          Another successful trait of this book is the suspense created throughout it. The book begins with the opinion of the nosey neighbour who knows very little about the couple but imparts her views on their behaviour to their neighbours and their behaviour when out with their new baby. This character gives the reader a small taste of what's to come; letting us know that something is definitely "off" with the couple and hinting at the fact that their daughter Samantha was in a cage - although never revealing anything else. From this point onwards, all the characters chapters reflect on what they knew about Sherilyn and Brandon before the discovery of Samantha now that they know what they did to their own daughter, each chapter leads onto someone who knew them a little bit better and has a bit more information giving this book a steady pace and a constant need to read on and discover more.

          The most interesting (and telling!) of all chapters are those of their parents and of course, Sherilyn and Brendon who crop up several times in their own chapters throughout the book. Sherilyn and Brendon's chapters are always told with both of their opinions included. For example, Brendon will begin his opinion on something, there will be a break and Sherilyn will have her opinion and thoughts. I found these sections equally compelling and disturbing and once again I applaud the author for her clever writing. Sherilyn and Brendon (or Bendilyn/Sherildon as they sometimes refer to each other) seem to write almost the identical thing to each other; especially their last sentence, which seems to always be the echo of the latter's last sentence. This highlights their strange, intense relationship and also how disturbed they are in general!

          Sherilyn and Brendons opinions also hint at something dark in their childhoods which make the reading of Brendons step mother, and Sherilyns parents compelling reading. Needless to say, there are some secrets laid bare which made me sympathize with their childhood selves. The question would still be - are the events that happened to them in childhood responsible for what they did in their adult lives, and should they be forgiven for it? My answer would be no, but I liked the brave attempt at trying to get the reader to fully sympathize with them.

          In fact, this is quite skillfully done as the author delves into some difficult subjects and doesn't shy away from telling it like it is. This did make me uncomfortable and left me squirming at several points; the subjects often include sexual abuse to children, the details of which are not skimmed over. As much as I squirmed whilst reading this, I felt that it reflected what happens in our society and although it shocked and disgusted me, I know that these things do happen and so it shouldn't be something that is brushed under the carpet. After reading about such atrocities, my sympathy for certain characters certainly peaked. Overall however it is hard to really get to grips with such characters as the Gutteridges as they almost felt like unfeeling robots. I especially found it hard to sympathize or have any good feeling with Sherilyn (at least her adult self) as she quite literally puts up a wall. Her icy exterior and total lack of remorse for her crime sealed it for me and she became an easy character to dislike.

          However, there was something about Brendan that on occasion inspired some sympathy in me, he seemed sad and at times softer than his wife and at times I wanted to believe that he was lead to do these terrible things by his wife. Despite that, his utter devotion to her, and his lack of remorse eventually helped me to realise that this really was "monster love"!

          A few negatives about this book but ones which were quite glaring for me and overall ruined my enjoyment. A lot is made of the "connection" between Sherilyn and Brendan, not only through the way their thoughts are similarly written, but by the things that they say, especially towards the end of the book. For some reason, I expected something massive to happen that would explain how they connect to each other so much (it is hard to explain without giving it all away!) but the ending was such an incredible disappointment, nothing explained and it really left the book on a flat note.
          All the way through, I thought I might have a "We Need to talk about Kevin" ending (which for me was so unexpected, it blew me away!) and this just fell so short that I felt unbelievably disappointed. For me, I felt that the last couple of chapters were really leading to something happening, and although it had a kind of ending with an impact, it wasn't enough to make me feel blown away by this book.

          Needless to say, this book hasn't overtaken Shriver's attempts in my mind, but the way in which incredibly sensitive subject matter was tackled will stay with me forever.

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            09.08.2009 15:36
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            A tale of obsessive love, with terrible consequences.

            I have ran out of books to read recently, and my daughter who is a right book-worm, has kindly given me a few to read.
            This book - Monster Love by Carol Topolski is one of them.

            The story centres around married couple Brendan and Sherilyn Gutteridge. A couple who are soulmates in every sense of the word, and totally wrapped up in each other. They both have great jobs and have climbed the ladder at the same firm where they met, and live in an expensive house and have expensive tastes.
            To the outside world, they are a couple so in love, and they keep themselves to themselves. However, are always very polite to everyone they meet.
            The only time they appear to socialise is when attending or holding work-related dinner parties, drinks parties etc, where they are always attentive and polite.
            The perfect couple it seems.

            That is until Samantha is born. For Brendan and Sherilyn, Samantha is just a thing that threatens to spoil their perfect love.
            At first , the neighbours often see Samantha with her parents, but then when no one in the neighbourhood has seen Samantha for quite some time, a puzzled neighbour decides to take action. Yet Brendan and Sherilyn seem happier than ever, so nothing is wrong. Is it?

            I found this a very strange book to read. From reading the back cover, and right from the very first chapter it is obvious something has happened to Samantha, so I am not giving away any spoilers here.
            It has an unexpected structure, in that each chapter of the book features a different person's perspective of the Gutteridges', their lives and the events that happened. The story slowly unfolds, drawing the reader in as we discover each person's perspective.
            There are also some chapters where the Gutteridges' themselves also tell their story.

            There are numerous characters in this book, ranging from Charlotte, the neighbour who is the first person to suspect something isn't right, to Kaye, the social worker who realises just how gullible she can be and has a hard time dealing with it.
            Other characters who feature in the individual narratives, are the Gutteridges' parents, work colleagues, and professionals involved in the events which happen.
            Because only a chapter is given to each character, you would think that this is not enough for the reader to be able to grow to like, or identify with the characters involved. Therefore I did think at first, I would not enjoy reading the book, and that it would be 'all over the place', is the phrase that sprung to mind when I began reading.
            However, this is where the author has excelled herself, as I found the characters were really well-developed in each chapter, and you found out not only their thoughts, but also a little of their own lives and backgrounds too.
            It was all woven together really well, with just enough time given to the characters own lives and personalities to interest the reader, but also to ensure the story did not stray too far from the plot.

            The author herself is a practising psychoanalytic psychotherapist, which no doubt explains why she is able to describe the thoughts and feelings of the characters so well.

            The story is described as a chilling love story with a twist, and I would go along with that to a point, however, you are told early on in the book exactly what happens to Samantha, so I was expecting a twist at the end, and for me it didn't happen, as I had guessed the ending quite some time before the end of the book.
            I also found towards the end of the book it takes a turn towards becoming strange and macabre, which I found a little unbelievable. However, even though I found it a little strange, I am not doubting this could happen, as I am not a psychotherapist!

            The story is very disturbing, and although the reader is spared any real, in-depth description of what Samantha endured, it still makes for a dark and harrowing read, as it also becomes apparent that the Gutteridges' lead far from normal childhoods themselves, which may explain some of their actions. Because of the revelations from their own childhoods, you find yourself switching from hating them as they do not seem to realise that they have done anything wrong, to having just a little bit of sympathy and understanding.
            All of which leads to the question - are monsters born, or created?

            Overall it is a tale of obsessive love with terrible consequences, and you realise from the start that there is never going to be a happy ending.
            If you think you can bear the subject matter, then you will enjoy reading this book as it is has a unique style, and is very well written and thought-provoking.
            However, the strange ending for me is what leads to me removing one star to award this book 4 out of 5.

            Monster Love by Carol Topolski is available to buy from Amazon priced at £3.49 new and from 1p used.

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              03.04.2009 21:01
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              A nice idea but got a little strange towards the ending and I was left wishing I hadn't bothered.

              Because of taking part in the A-Z Author Challenge (as I wrote about in my last book review) my last Amazon shopping spree involved only books from letters of the alphabet previously uncovered, and only one of each. Which along with an offer on Amazon in conjunction with the Metro, landed Monster Love in my basket for something like £1.99.

              When it arrived and I saw the full synopsis, I have to say I wasn't overly excited, but I brought it with me on my trip to Canada so I would have to read it. And to begin with, to my surprise, I was hooked.

              Monster Love centres around Brendan and Sherilyn, a couple so in love that nobody else in the world matters. While they keep up appearances by having cocktail parties for their colleagues, it is merely to advance up the career ladder. They hold no interest in their well-meaning neighbours or families, and spend their days striving for Stepford Wives-esque perfection (on the outside) while being thoroughly wrapped up in each other.

              So everyone was a little surprised when they saw Sherilyn was pregnant. Surely a baby would be inconvenient for such a high-flying couple? Her odd attitude towards the infant didn't go unnoticed in the neighbourhood, but it was a couple of years before they realised that none of them had actually seen little Samantha for quite some time...and throughout the book we find out precisely why.

              This is one of those books which is told from several viewpoints, with a new chapter for each narrator. It's safe to say that, at times, these can get a bit confusing but this is not the case here. Each chapter is named after whoever is taking over the story (with Brendan and Sherilyn sharing theirs and cropping up more frequently) and even though sometimes we may not already be familiar with who someone is, it's easy to twig after half a page or so.

              I find this to be an interesting way to hear a story, especially one where such strong contrasting opinions and views are aired, but for me just having someone's name at the top of the page does not mean I am reading their words. I need a little convincing. Just look around Dooyoo and you will realise that two people talking about the same thing will use vastly different vocabulary and phrases.

              I understand that the author is trying to show that Brendan and Sherilyn are made for each other, soulmates, one and the same etc etc, and so while it's a little creepy, their passages which mirror each other and often use exactly the same phrases, work. However, despite obvious attempts to differentiate other characters by having one swear, etc, there are a lot of characters in this book and Topolski does not make them feel sufficiently different. I think to be reading people's opinions and uncovering the mystery piece by piece, you need to believe what's being said somewhat, and I'm afraid I didn't.

              That said, it was still a compulsive read, as chapters were fairly short and the story was constantly changing as new people were being brought into the mix. I was looking forward to the huge twist the synopsis promised. But by the end of the book I still hadn't seen it.

              Sure, at the beginning of the book I wouldn't have called what happened in those final chapters. But that's only because I found it a weak, easy-way-out ending. It was one of those times I enjoyed a book immensely throughout, only to feel let down to the point of anger at the end. I would say a twist is something that completely flips how you look at the entire story. That you can review the piece as a whole and think "oh yeah, there was a clue". Something that is cleverly woven in. Not an ending that just doesn't sit right.

              I was interested to see what others thought of this, and checked out reviews on Amazon. The consensus is that it is dark and disturbing. Yes, it centres around a pretty bleak crime which, from time to time does happen. And yes, that's a horrible, horrible thing. But really it is barely described, with the bulk of the book being other people reminding us how awful it is. Maybe it's because I work in the media and have become officially desensitised to bad news, but I didn't think it was quite as "harrowing" as some would say. There are so many books which describe murders and gore in extreme detail, only the characters' attitudes to the happenings is shocking here.

              I did enjoy the majority this book, but I wasn't prepared for the disappointment that was the ending. With so many characters thrown in (all of whom were pretty much unrelated to the plot), there was so much scope for what could have happened, for a real twist.

              Monster Love is currently on sale at Amazon.co.uk for £5.49. I'm glad I got mine on a (now expired) offer, as it has no re-read value and was pretty disappointing for me.

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                06.02.2009 15:56
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                An excellent debut novel from Carol Topolski

                Brendan and Sherilyn Gutteridge live in the pleasant, affluent area of Tamley in Manchester. They are quite new to their street and prefer to remain private, keeping to themselves a great deal. To everyone else they appear to be the perfect couple...nice house, lovely car, designer clothes, expensive lifestyle and overall, completely immersed in each other and totally, utterly in love.

                A child is born. To most people this would be a fabulous occasion, thoroughly cementing the unity of a couple and opening a new chapter in their lives. But the Gutteridge bubble is different. Do they love each other so much that they would be willing to commit the most hideous of crimes?

                As a baby, Samantha is seen occasionally but as she grows into a toddler, she is seen less and less. When one of the streets residents reports that she hasn't caught a glimpse of the little girl for a long time, suspicions are raised and a sickening chain of events are uncovered...



                Monster Love is not a mystery so don't expect any suspense beyond the first few pages! It becomes apparent very early on in the book exactly what has happened to Samantha. And it's not for the faint hearted. Each and every reader will put the book down in shock, drawing a gasp of air in absolute disbelief. But then intrigue kicks in and this is where the majority of the tale begins, revolving around just one question...'why?'

                Carol Topolski presents an unusual literary format in this, her debut novel. Each chapter is written from a different perspective - a device which is used to thoroughly examine the lives of Brendan and Sherilyn. Neighbours, social workers, work colleagues, Police officers, family members and of course, the couple themselves all play an individual narrative part in detailing the events that have happened and the ripple effect that the aftermath of such a horrific crime can have on a community.

                You may think that the varying voices would inhibit the book, making it disjointed and somewhat awkward. I found that it is very cleverly structured though. It's well balanced and each chapter flows well, slowly piecing the elements together and also revealing the backgrounds of the Gutteridges. An insight is provided and the reader discovers that the pair are each hiding their own damaged childhood...perhaps offering an explanation as to the origins of their complex behaviour and current psychological states. By no means an excuse for their crimes, it does unearth a feeling of guilt overlapping innocence (and vice-versa) and sympathy for the couple does emerge. This is only possible for a short period though as it becomes clear that they have no perception or acceptance of their actions. In fact, they are almost completely without feeling.

                The author currently works as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist with previous roles as a probation officer, film censor and the director of a rape crisis centre. I think she has been massively influenced by her experiences throughout her career - her research in essence - and has drawn from this to successfully create the lead characters in her book. I can imagine that she has met some very unsavoury characters in the past but this has obviously assisted her a great deal in terms of representing someone with a severely damaged psyche.

                I must admit that when reading a book I like to get to know particular characters within its pages but the writing style of Monster Love doesn't really allow for this. As each character has only brief chapters they are somewhat under developed and on occasion I was left feeling like I wanted to hear more from that person. Having said that, I think that the multi-voice format (alongside the odd touch of humour) lightened the dark nature of the book to an extent, causing it to be quite a page turner. Considering the heavy and disturbing subject matter of the story, I couldn't wait to read on...see who was going to 'talk' next and tell us what they had seen or heard. This also added to the feeling of realism as in our newspapers, we are only given snippets of information and eyewitness accounts, piecing together the latest headlines. If Monster Love had been written in a more standard manner I really don't think it would have had the same effect and impact.

                Towards the end of the book drama in the courtroom unfolds. This manages to keep up the sense of pace which is not always the case in conventional crime stories. Again, the technique of varying viewpoints adds greatly to the interest.

                At around the same point in the novel a seemingly telepathic connection between the Gutteridges is detailed. This suggestion spoilt the story a little for me...a bit over the top and verging on the 'supernatural'. I can understand that it was included to emphasize the intense closeness of the couple and their inseparable bond but it just didn't do anything for me. It is a necessary addition to assist the ending though. Although I have read reviews where people have claimed that they found it to be predictable, I can honestly say that it caught me completely by surprise. I wasn't expecting it at all!

                Despite the harrowing content and sometimes strange developments within Monster Love I found it utterly compelling. Carol Topolski has produced a very brave, experimental attempt at tackling the question of why seemingly harmless people do unspeakable things. And of course, making the point that none of us really knows what goes on behind the closed doors of our neighbours, friends and even family.






                Published by: Penguin Books Ltd (2008)
                Pages: 272
                Cover price: £6.99
                ISBN: 9780141033389

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                  16.10.2008 07:37
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                  Very disturbing but answers in fiction, all the questions you ever asked

                  A truly amazing book and I can't believe how fabulous it was considering the subject matter. I really felt - even though it was fiction - that this was what it would be like during cases that are so traumatic. It was extremely well written and I confess that in places I really did feel for both murderers - why, I don't know but I guess I was so hooked and into the novel they'd managed somehow to seep under my skin.

                  It initially took a while for me to settle into the novel. The chapters are different in that they are each told from a different perspective, someone involved in different ways. Chapters come from parents, colleagues, neighbours, police, social workers, staff working in the courts and others. The most interesting chapters are not always those by the two main characters either, although these are the ones that make you either shout at the book or read quicker.

                  I can't recommend this book enough. It's disturbing but realistic, as well as being convincing from start to finish. I felt chilled from the start but compelled to keep reading. This was so good I actually had to stay up to read as much as I could, the last bit had to be finished tonight as I wanted to know the outcome and couldn't wait. This is a must read book and I can't urge you enough to get hold of a copy!

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