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Stolen Child - Laura Elliot
Member Name: QueenElf
Stolen Child - Laura Elliot
Advantages: Chick-lit just grew up.
Disadvantages: A long read at 500 pages.
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.
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Summary: One for the Mums & daughters too!