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The Betrayals by Fiona Neill - Review

Thursday, November 2, 2017

This a a really odd book and I was compelled to keep reading it, but I'm not sure if my review will totally do it justice. Firstly though this is definitely an adult book and contains sexual scenes, scenes of violence, and quite a bit of bad language, so be warned for those. There's also a lot of talk of death, self harm, and suicide.

The novel is about two families. Eight years ago they were separate families - Rosie and Nick were married, and had children Daisy and Max. Rosie's childhood friend Lisa was married to Barney, and they had children Rex and Ava. Lisa and Barney were having marital problems because of Barney's drinking, and the whole eight of them were on holiday in Norfolk, in Rosie's childhood home, an event that clearly happens every year. Soon after, Nick leaves Rosie for Lisa, an event that triggers the illness OCD in Daisy - or, at least, makes her much worse. We are told all this in flashback, because right at the beginning of the book it is the present time. Nick and Lisa are still together, Rosie is still working as an oncology doctor specialising in breast cancer, Daisy is "cured" of OCD and is at university, and Max is at university studying to be a doctor.

Then Rosie receives a letter from Lisa, where Lisa says that she is dying of cancer and wants to tell Rosie something. Daisy intercepts the letter and at first hides it from her mother. She is pretty sure she knows what Lisa wants to tell Rosie - what happened on the beach in Norfolk on the last day of their holiday.

Except, Daisy's recollections are, it becomes clear, flawed. The novel is told from her point of view as well as those of her parents and her brother. All four of them have different memories of the day, from the trivial to the significant. Nick is a memory research doctor and the book is kind of a concept novel around that. There's a lot about memory and its unreliability and about how trauma can stop us from making new memories or accurate ones. That's one reason why I found it such a compelling read. I kept picking up on inconsistencies, like Lisa's fringe, for example, and wasn't sure who to trust. In one way, they are all unreliable narrators. Daisy because of her illness, Max because of his guilt... and so on. I think Rosie actually comes across as the most reliable, and that's partly because of her profession - she's very cool, calm, and calming. This book is almost a concept novel but I don't think it quite worked.

There are, for example, parts of the novel which are supposedly set in the past but which contain anachronistic detail, like for instance eight years in the past 13 year old Daisy has a Facebook account, which I just don't believe was true in 2008/2009. Even further in the past has the two women drinking prosecco when their children were tiny, which I also don't believe actually happened. It just seemed like a little bit more editing would have caught errors like this. (And I guess, since this is a proof copy, that may have happened). There are questions that are left unanswered when they shouldn't have been, and I felt like the last twenty percent of the book was a bit rushed and not entirely satisfying. I also wouldn't really categorise this book as a thriller - it doesn't have that same adrenaline rush for me.

However, I'm giving it a solid three out of five because it is interesting, the characters are interesting, and it did keep me wanting to read. I felt like the portrayal of Daisy's OCD was extremely true to life and showed the way the illness devastated her life and those of the people who love her. Thank you very much to Penguin Michael Joseph for the proof copy - I liked it!

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