I am worried I am going to spend too much money on books now that I have a Kindle, so I have been downloading some of Amazon's Kindle Deals of the Day. What Have I Done? by Amanda Prowse was on offer recently for £1.19, and as it had fantastic, 5-star reviews, I bought it and was expecting something very special.
Kate Brooker is a middle-class housewife; married to the headmaster of an exclusive school, whom she has 2 teenage children with. Outwardly, they are a loving couple; however Mark Brooker is a tyrant who has been abusing Kate since they got married almost 20 years previously. Kate is eventually worn down enough to do something unthinkable, that will shock the community and change her and her children's lives forever.
MY THOUGHTS (POSSIBLE SPOILERS AHEAD!)
The chapters do not go in proper chronological order, alternating between Kate's life with Mark and without him. I much preferred the chapters about her life while she was being abused - it was much more dramatic and you could really sense the fear and tension in her life. The descriptions of her doing the constant cleaning, cooking and washing emphasised how downtrodden and suffocating her life was. I read these chapters very quickly, as I wanted to find out what was going to happen in them.
The descriptions of Mark's abuse towards Kate were fairly horrifying at times. I have a strong stomach for such things, but some people of a sensitive nature might find these parts graphic. The abuse he doles out is not what I expected - it is much more cold, calculated and obsessive; he abuses her in the same way every single night, and has done in the 19 years they have been married. It did make me wonder why and how Kate was able to withstand this level of torture for so long, and at times I was getting really frustrated with her and telling her to stick up for herself! Mark is not just your stereoptypical 'wifebeater', he seems more like a stone cold psychopath to me, being able to be one thing towards Kate while maintaining his job as loveable, perfect headmaster.
You can sense how trapped Kate feels in these parts of the book, particularly in one scene when Mark is listening in on a telephone conversation she is having with her sister. Her sister is having a crisis, and Kate desperately wants to help her, but knows she cannot. This call leads to an almost total breakdown in communication between the two sisters, but Kate knows that the consequences would have been more severe if she had gone against her controlling husband's wishes and tried to come to her sister's aid.
In contrast, the chapters focusing on Kate's life after Mark really didn't appeal to me at all. They dragged on at times, and at points did not seem to have any purpose or reason for being there. I found them extremely cliched and cheesy at times - for example, her trip to a beautiful Caribbean island to heal; the handsome stranger who turns out to be an all round good guy who she spills all her secrets to within what, a day?; the downtrodden child who hasn't spoken since seeing her father get stabbed that Kate magically helps. Parts such as these made me roll my eyes and tut as I was reading... maybe I am just really cynical and jaded! Characters were introduced that ended up having zero consequence to the main plot, and towards the end of the novel, the narrative changed from Kate's POV to one of these characters, which was just annoying.
I found Kate's character, post-prison as very grating. To me she came across as haughty and even rude. I appreciate that the author perhaps wanted to portray her as being more assertive now that she was free from her controlling husband, but to be honest I found her to be an uppity do-gooder. Oh dear, I am a bad person. This part of the plot came across as not particularly believable, with Kate setting out to rehabilitate women who have just been released from prison, even though she has no experience or formal training.
I thought that the book ended very abruptly, almost as if the author was desperate to rush to a conclusion. Therefore to me it came across like any loose ends were tied up rather too easily and conveniently in order for Kate to get the outcome she wanted.
WOULD I RECOMMEND THIS?
I would probably recommend it purely because I seem to be in the minority who didn't think it was amazing. It is not a bad book, I just expected more from it. As I said, the chapters about the abuse Kate suffers are very involving and I couldn't put the book down during those sections. But the alternate chapters that focus on Kate's work helping other woman post-prison really brought the book down as I found these parts annoying and cheesy.
Overall, I wouldn't read this again myself, but I would not dissuade others from doing so.