Catriona has a life she'd never dreamt possible as a child. Married to a man she loves, with a wonderful daughter and step daughter and a blossoming career as an artist, it would seem she has it all. But when her eight-year-old daughter, Daisy, starts feeling unwell with an unidentifiable illness, Cat is stunned to find herself accused of deliberately making her daughter sick. Suspected of Munchausen by Proxy, Cat is forced to relive her own traumatic childhood while at the same time fighting to clear her name and save her marriage.
I read Margaret Leroy's The Drowning Girl last year, and really loved it, and so have been watching out for her latest book, The Perfect Mother, released recently. I started reading as soon as it arrived and yet again found it to be another engrossing and compelling read.
The book begins with a happy family scene celebrating Christmas but moves very quickly onto Daisy's illness and the rest of the story. I found the book intriguing from the very start as Leroy doesn't dwindle at setting the scene, but rather carries you along at a pacey speed right from the off, so before I knew it I'd read 100 pages.
As a Mother, Cat is very easy to relate to. She is anxious and worried about Daisy, but no one is taking her concerns seriously. I felt indignant and angry for her and it got me thinking about the power authority has over us, and how by misinterpreting or twisting our words, we could all find ourselves in an unjust and vulnerable position. The subtleness with which Cat's words and actions were misconstrued and twisted was frightening, and it was easy to see how this could happen to any of us. Indeed, according to her website, the inspiration for The Perfect Mother came from the authors own personal experience and it certainly felt authentic and realistic.
I was a little concerned at the speed with which Cat became a suspect; I find it hard to imagine this would be the case in real life. While I absolutely believed in the way she was treated by a Doctor and how her actions were taken out of context, I found the speed of which this happened less so. However, this did add a different dimension to the book, where I became suspicious of Cat myself. As the book is told in the first person, I started to feel the vagueness and unfairness could be deliberate, as we were seeing things as Cat sees them, not as a logical person. Was she deliberately missing out vital information from the story and was it actually she who was misinterpreting the professionals? This meant that I wasn't sure what was going to happen, up until the end and the book had an air of mystery throughout.
Cat is the main character in the book, and as it's told in the first person we get very little insight into the others. Cat's husband was something of an enigma to me, as I couldn't understand the ease with which he put his misplaced faith. Their relationship is reflected upon, through flashbacks, and this goes some way to explaining him as a person.
As well as the story regarding her daughter Daisy, there is a sub-plot involving Cat's own mother and their relationship. This was an interesting and mysterious thread that developed slowly, also through flashbacks. It also made me ponder, as one psychiatrist was so eager to latch onto Cat's traumatic childhood as a reason for her daughter's apparent illness, how no matter how much we work for change, our past is always there to be judged upon. I found this quite sad and worrying, as again it felt extremely authentic.
I do have a criticism however. As Cat's relationship with her husband becomes more difficult, she turns elsewhere. This seemed to come from no-where really and didn't add or compliment the story. It felt unnecessary and I think if it had been emitted the story would have been just as good. This was something I picked up on in Leroy's previous book, although in that instance it did seem to work well enough. I suppose I just don't need a romance to find a story complete, maybe others would enjoy this aspect.
Despite this criticism I did once again thoroughly enjoy Margaret Leroy's writing. I started this book on a 2-hour train journey, and I don't think I looked up once as I became so engrossed. Margaret Leroy's writing is so completely compelling and readable; I just want to keep turning the pages. Previously a social worker, its clear Margaret knows and understands people, and it's this that make her stories so vividly realistic. I finished The Perfect Mother in one day, and would recommend it to anyone who likes general Women's fiction with an air of mystery and pages that turn themselves. While I didn't quite enjoy it as much as The Drowning Girl, I certainly found it a great read. Fast becoming one of my favourite author's of this kind of fiction right now, I'll be eagerly awaiting her new book.
~ Other Information ~
The Perfect Mother by Margaret Leroy
Published by Mira Books February 2010