The wording on the front of this book underneath the main title simply asks 'Would you ever give up looking?' and I think most women would answer 'not for a very long time, if ever.' But the pain, the uncertainty and the longing would eventually ease and hopefully more children would be born and life would eventually regain some sort of equilibrium. But for the character of Carla Kelly after her two-day old daughter Isobel is stolen from her and her husband Robert Gardner, life will never be the same and for Carla in particular the loss will echo down the years changing everything she has ever been and hopes to be into ashes as she fails to let her beloved daughter go.
Miles away in a small country town in rural Ireland, another woman faces the agony of childbirth with more than the usual fear, for Susanne Dowling has a long history of miscarriage and as she watches the beautiful face of Carla Kelly, model and proud mother-to-be, she wants only to have a live baby to call her own. When miracle baby Joy is seemingly born to Susanne while husband David is working away on the oil rigs, one woman's agony and loss is another woman's triumphant gain, or is it? For Susanne can never tell her shameful secret and her lovely daughter Joy must spend an isolated childhood as the secrets remain under cover.
Carla will never lose hope that Isobel will be found and dedicates her life to becoming reunited with her child, losing her career, her home and eventually her husband as she refuses to start a new life.
***A Strange Co-Incidence***
Naturally the reader doesn't take long to guess miracle baby Joy's real mother, but the story so lovingly and sympathetically written by author Laura Elliot is not meant as a mystery story to be unraveled, in fact she gives the game away from the start with the revelation in her Acknowledgements that the seed of the story came from a newspaper report on a stolen child that she'd read about when she was a young girl herself. She asks the question what would it be like to meet your real flesh and blood after many years of thinking you belonged to a whole different family. It's a question that the book strives to answer eventually but the real story is about the two women and how each almost allows the loss on one side and the gain on the other to take control of their lives.
If the reader skipped the author's introductions the very first words of the first chapter would give the story away with it's sad lines, ' I buried my baby on the shortest night of the year...she was my almost-child, my shattered dream. Sixteen weeks in my womb before she came away. Born on the longest day of the year, webbed fingers and toes, her veins delicate as skeins of silk. Sweet little monkey face.'
I cried as I read that opening, feeling as any mother can of the terrible pain that comes from losing a child, even if has never happened to you it can be felt in the tug of your own womb, the pain of an empty place inside, the singing of sweet baby murmurs in your ears, those little coos of bubbling contentment after a milky feed.
I won't give away any more of the plot since the book is about the lives of the two women and their families. Shortly after the terrible opening sequence the book goes back a short way to show how one pregnancy was almost in line with the other and how this helps Susanne get away with passing one woman's newborn child off as her own. She had watched Carla's pregnancy as a model gloriously healthy and modeling her sister-in-laws maternity range of clothes and baby items on television and in magazines. As the story continues each chapter is given the voice of one woman and the time line. So as the years pass Joy herself gets her own voice, and so does the fathers of the baby.
Naturally such a story covers many themes in it's telling with the main one obviously about why women take that initial act and steal a child, but how do they get away with it and why do they carry on that deceit? It's a large topic on it's own, but with the two women having something in common it asks other questions of ethics.
Both Carla and Susanne worked as models for an older man who took advantage of them both. At different times they both had abortions and this acts as a catalyst at different times to the women. To Carla it's retribution especially when the press find out. For Susanne it's a lapsed catholic upbringing suggesting God's hand in her inability to carry a child to term.
With both women coming from a similar background there is an understanding that might not exist if they had come from different childhoods and for Carla, though younger, her guilt over modeling while pregnant takes her over, almost as if she was asking to have her baby taken from her. So although the book is set in the 1990's, the topics are still very modern.
While not important to the story the setting of the story in Ireland had a profound effect on some of the questions it poses as any woman brought up as a catholic appears to be affected by the religious aspects. To me I found the gentle trust of the people and the happiness that a baby brings echoed in the village life. I also loved the wonderful descriptions of places so carefully penned by the author I really wanted to see those sights for myself.
Naturally the women take center stage and the reader cannot help being judgmental in some ways. I felt sorry for both women and then started to get annoyed with both as they failed to get on with their lives. For one trapped by deceit, she still pushes her husband away and the other refusing to try for another baby also pushes her husband away. This affects their extended families, the parents, and siblings, leeching the joy of a sister when she has her first baby and tearing families down the middle. It starts to read as a study in how an action can gather such momentum that it cannot stop itself from further damage.
As Joy grows up the damage done to her by isolation becomes more pronounced and the reader wonders if there can possibly be any happy ending to such turmoil of deceit and despair. It's then that parents and in-laws, cousins and dear friends show that love does have a power of it's own to heal some wounds, even though they may be old ones. It's also a strong contender for that old question of nature versus nurture. Who makes or breaks the child?
While the story is fairly obvious I have given very little away and there is much to enjoy from the book. Although it might upset some people I found it very sad at times but also very hopeful and uplifting at others. It gave me back some of my faith in human nature and reminded me that while we are parents ourselves, we are always somebody's children before that and the legacy given to us by our parents is never wasted or to be taken for granted. It also reminded me how special it is to be able to give birth to a child and that women who are never allowed that joy can still adopt and love some other person's child more than life itself.
My copy of the book was a library book and I picked it up as a light read along with several thrillers. I'm glad I did, as it's gentle message remains with me two weeks after I read it. Do read it and enjoy some Ahhh moments.
Thanks for reading.
This review may appear on other sites.
Review of 'Stolen Child', a novel by Laura Elliot
I am reviewing the paperback version of this novel, published by Avon, a division of Harper Collins, in April 2010.
ISBN 978-1847561442, 512 pages, cover price £6.99.
Genre:- Modern Fiction.
Set in Ireland, the story opens in the late 1990's and follows the lives of two women.
Glamorous lingerie model Carla Kelly marries Dublin based undercover policeman, Robert Gardner. Very soon Carla becomes pregnant and lands a contract to model maternity wear for a fashion designer. The range is called 'Anticipation' and hits the headlines with it's attractive styles for expectant mothers.
At the same time, Susanne and David Dowling are also expecting their first child. They live in a small country town. David works away much of the time on the oil rigs. Susanne is 10 years older than David and she has had several miscarriages in the past. Susanne is desperate for a family. Many years earlier, Susanne knew Carla Kelly and follows her maternity modelling career with interest.
When Susanne miscarries her baby girl she is distraught and decides to keep the sad news to herself. She buries her baby's body in the garden and embarks on a difficult few months, pretending she is still pregnant. She fashions a padded harness to wear beneath her clothes and manages by various methods to deceive not only her husband, but everyone around her.
Carla Kelly gives birth to a baby girl in a private maternity hospital. The baby is perfect and she is named Isabel. Tragedy strikes two days after the birth when baby Isabel is stolen from the hospital. As Carla is a well known face, the media frenzy that follows is relentless. Carla and Robert have to cope with this alongside the trauma of the loss of their precious child.
Meanwhile, taking advantage of a severe storm, Susanne gives birth at home alone to a baby girl who she calls Joy. Susanne is harbouring a terrible secret and although she now has her heart's desire, it does not make for happiness and her guilt makes her feel she must raise Joy in almost total isolation.
Carla Kelly never gives up the search for her baby, even when the police stop searching. She will not believe that Isabel is dead, she is convinced that her child is alive.
Does Carla find her daughter?
Can Susanne live with herself?
I'm afraid you'll have to read the novel to find out!
==My Thoughts and Conclusion==
It is a shame that from both the very first page and the synopsis on the book cover, you are aware that Susanne is the baby thief. I would have preferred to find this out later in the story, but as the plot follows events from both women's viewpoints, I suppose it has to be this way.
Stolen Child is the first novel I have read from Laura Elliot, so I started the book with a clear mind and had no preconceived expectations from it.
The plot is a fairly straightforward one, there are enough characters to make the story interesting, without there being so many that it becomes confusing. I felt that the author had done well with the completely contrasting lead characters personalities. The characters are complex but believable and I found myself both loathing and liking the character of Susanne! The child, Joy/Isabel is also very well portrayed and her confusion at her 'mother's' peculiarities as the enforced isolation she is brought up in, take their toll on Joy's personality.
The author has touched on a very emotive and sensitive issue in 'Stolen Child' and has told the tale without sensationalising it in any way. To lose a child is bad enough, but to have the child stolen from it's crib as you sleep in the comparative safety of a maternity ward, must be devastating.
I found that I quite liked the writing style of the the author, although have to say that the switching from first person to third person was a bit irritating in places.
This is a very good book, I wouldn't say it is enjoyable in the true sense of the word as the issues touched upon are certainly not enjoyable ones. I will probably re-read this book, I consider it to be very well written and one worth recommending to others.
Thank you for reading
© brittle1906 December 2011
N.B. My reviews may be found on other sites under the same name.
When Carla Kelly marries Robert Gardiner after a whirlwind romance, their happiness is complete when Carla discovers she's pregnant. Tragedy strikes two days after baby Isobel is born, though, when Isobel is snatched without reason. Meanwhile, Susanne and David Dowling are celebrating the birth of their miracle child Joy. However Susanne is hiding a terrible secret and in her bid to keep her secret a secret, she rears Joy in near-isolation. As Carla and Robert begin the search for their daughter, their marriage begins to crumble under the strain. Carla refuses to move on, believing that her baby is still out there somewhere, waiting for her to find her. As the years pass, Carla's determination to find her daughter never wanes, despite the dwindling hope whereas Susanne carries on rearing Joy by shielding her from the world. As secrets come to the fore, can either mother find the strength to face their demons?
Stolen Child is Laura Elliot's second novel under that name but she's had many books published under her real name of June Considine. I picked up her first book under the name of Laura Elliot, The Prodigal Sister, last year but I haven't yet gotten around to reading it. When I saw the synopsis for Laura's second book Stolen Child, I couldn't wait to read it. I've read a few books about missing children - the one that stands out is Little Miracles by Giselle Green - and they intrigue me, not to mention we're always hearing about children going missing in the news, so it's interesting to see how authors tackle such a subject.
I don't want to spell it out, but I think it's kind of an open secret what happens to Carla's baby; the blurb on the back of the book is told in such a way that it kind of gives it away. It's not a problem, because that's probably not the issue. The issue is how long it all spans out and how deep each person involved gets in the whole thing. I liked how both stories of both women run parallel to each other and they almost blend into one. There's Susanne's story of joy, of hope, of knowing that despite the odds, she has her miracle baby, despite the dubious circumstances within which she 'got' her daughter. And then we have Carla's despair and determination; her despair at the loss of her daughter and her determination to find her baby no matter what. As Carla searches and searches, we see as Susanne tries hard to keep her secrets secret, and the two such contrasting stories blend so well together. It must have been fairly hard to pull off two different set of emotions and two different writing styles, but it's done with aplomb.
I must admit I'm finding it very hard to articulate fully what I thought of the characters. On the one hand, I can understand absolutely everything Susanne does but on the other hand it disgusts me so much. I think we're past the point where I just can't not mention the fact Susanne stole Isobel. And how can I ever like someone who is willing to do something so so terrible? Yet I could, in a totally strange and surreal way, empathise with her plight. I don't agree with what she did, but I could feel for her and she didn't seem too terrible a person. I know she stole another person's child and that does automatically make her terrible, but excluding that, she didn't seem too terrible. I didn't like Carla in the beginning, I thought she enjoyed the publicity and everything surrounding herself and her pregnancy was a bit full on. But after Isobel goes missing, and Carla sees just how invasive the press and media can be, and she realises just how much she hates it, I began to like her a bit more. Not many people would have the will to go on after a child goes missing, particularly after the police even give up, but Carla's determination was admirable. That, there, is what made me like Carla, the fact that she so strongly believed her daughter to be alive, made her for me.
The book doesn't just revolve around Carla and Susanne though, there's also their families and the plot definitely has wider implications than you might expect. There's Susanne's husband David as well as Carla's husband, Robert, and it's Robert and Carla who are hit the hardest. A missing child will do one of two things: bring you closer together or tear you apart and for Robert and Carla is was the latter. Then there's the wider families, the parents of all four characters, and siblings. The damage was far, wide and lasting, that's for sure. Even Joy, Susanne's daughter, is affected and the way she is with her parents, in particular her mum, was shocking at times. That's who I felt for the most because Susanne, despite all I've said, did seem to be a bit of a control freak when it came to Joy.
Stolen Child is definitely a slow-burning read and there isn't much in the way of action but I quite liked the pace of the book. I did want some more revelations to come out and I was itching for it all to kick off but on the whole I enjoyed the read. The book stands at a mammoth 500 pages and you're definitely in it for the long haul. There are a few twists on the way to the end, one in particular I didn't see coming at all. Despite it's relatively slow pace, I did manage to immerse myself fully in the book and the easy reading style certainly helped move the book along. There were a few twee parts but on the whole it was a great read. The book is recommended to fans of Anita Shreve and Rosie Thomas, although I've never actually read either of their books so I have no idea if that's a valid recommendation, but if you like Giselle Green's books or Louise Candlish's books then Stolen Child is probably one you ought to pick up.