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Monster Love - Carol Topolski
Member Name: burtybookworm
Monster Love - Carol Topolski
Advantages: superbly written, sensitive subject matter tackled with honesty
Disadvantages: horrendously disappointing ending which spoilt the whole book!
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.