I didn’t read The Widow by Fiona Barton, which was apparently an international best seller, but the teaser for her second book, The Child, intrigued me:
While razing an old neighborhood, construction workers make a grisly discovery at the building site: the remains of a baby buried years earlier. Thrown by the ongoing changes at her newspaper—where hastily written online content is increasingly valued over long-format investigative journalism, and layoffs loom—reporter Kate thinks finding the truth behind the baby’s story will put her byline back on the front page. Digging into the history of the working class neighborhood where the baby was found, Kate soon finds herself entangled in the lives of two women, Emma and Angela, whose lives and long-kept secrets are upended the discovery of the child. The story is told through the alternating perspectives of each woman, as their search for answers sets them on a shocking collision course.
So I agreed to participate in the blog tour and offer my thoughts. I grabbed the book on NetGalley and dove in.
I found it to be a mostly well done psychological thriller/mystery with a clever hook. But I am wondering if it was just not my style. A little too much drama and perhaps the dark subject matter made it slow going at times.
Plus, I found a lot of the characters unlikable and the early setup of the story a little slow. To be fair, as the mystery unraveled it picked up speed and there was definitely tension and excitement as it drove to its conclusion. It was interesting enough to keep me reading but it just never switched gears and sucked me in.
At the risk of being accused of sexism or gender stereotypes (or whatever term is used for this particular sin these days), let me also note that there is likely a bit of an extra appeal to women due to the themes of motherhood, mother-daughter relationships, and the role of women in relationships and family, etc. If those themes and roles interest you, there is likely a great deal more emotional punch to the story.
I do think the character of Kate Waters gets stronger as the book develops. I enjoyed her sense of humor and her often emotional reactions combined with, or perhaps driven by, her dedication to her career and desire to again break a big story.
Publishers Weekly notes the slow start but likes the finish:
Readers patient with the relatively slow initial pace until the intertwining stories gain momentum will be rewarded with startling twists—and a stunning, emotionally satisfying conclusion. Author tour.
Kirkus notes the melodrama:
Barton flirts with melodrama at times but pulls back and allows her characters to develop into fully realized, deeply scarred women whose wounds aren’t always visible. This is as much a why-dunit as a whodunit, with the real question being whether it’s possible to heal and live with the truth after hiding behind a lie for so long.
Marry Cadden at USA Today was a big fan:
In addition to being a page-turning whodunit, The Child is also a subtle exploration of the relationships between mothers and their children, their bonds and battles. What makes a good mother? When it comes to maternal love, is there a fine line between helping and hindering?
Barton again weaves a tale that keeps us on our toes. A novel that is both fast-paced and thought-provoking, it keeps the reader guessing right to the end. The Child truly is the best of both worlds.
Maureen Corrigan at the Washington Post was a bit more harsh that I was:
“The Child” is a middling and much-too-long suspense story that would have benefited from a ruthless red-pencil. As she did in “The Widow,” Barton relies on multiple points of view to tell (and retell) the larger story of the “Building Site Baby” as the unidentified infant comes to be known. Three other female characters get drawn into this story by learning about that same news item that piqued Kate’s curiosity.
Figuring out how all these women are connected — to each other and to the unidentified infant — is the hypothetical draw of this kind of fragmented, multi-perspective type of storytelling. I say “hypothetical draw,” because “The Child” is more tedious than tense. Characters chew over the same events from chapter to chapter until they’re as worn out as a stick of used Trident; even when the final revelation seems undeniably clear to readers, it takes Barton a good 80 pages or so to wrap things up. “The Child” isn’t a terrible novel; it’s simply much too much of a just okay one.
If you like the psychological drama of the women, the internal monologues if you will, I think you would enjoy The Child. This seems like a great beach read for example. But if this style and the themes noted are not your preference than it might not live up to its hype. Alas, I can’t tell you if reading The Widow makes the second book better or whether the expectations are lessened by not having read it.