The Mistake by Wendy James

February 2, 2012

Penguin Australia

256 pages

4 out of 5 stars

The Mistake is centred around a well to do family, the Garrows, in particular Jodi Garrow and her secret. For twenty-four years Jodi has kept the secret of her first baby – Elsa Mary Evans – a secret. At the time, no one knew she was pregnant (not her family, or her fiancé), so it only seemed natural for nineteen year old Jodi to keep the pregnancy and the adoption of the baby a secret too. That is until a chance encounter turns Jodi’s, and the Garrow’s carefully crafted and scripted world upside down, igniting a nation wide police investigation seeking the whereabouts of the baby.

Simply put, this book is amazing. I picked up the book not really knowing what to expect from the story and quickly found myself not only enthralled in the story and it’s characters, but the writing itself.

From the very first page, there is no mucking around with the narrative. James starts the story by dropping the reader into Jodi Garrow’s world just as everything explodes in her face. The writing is well paced and the dialogue realistic. The characters are well developed, and it is almost as though James predicts the reader’s understanding of the novel, for as soon a question arose, it was answered almost instantly within the next chapter, usually through the use of well times and paced flashbacks to 1986. The reader is literally right there with the family as the drama unfolds and new facts and situations arise. Further more the inclusion of the media’s presence and hounding of the family both in print and online were not only well executed, but grounded the book further in the contemporary world. Which in turn cemented the reality of the narrative and the scary implications of and about society all that more powerful. The small mentions about Lindy Chamberlain and the subtle nod, however unintentional, to Kellie Lane, made the novel all that more real and astounding at the same time. It’s a look that not many people have taken at such high profile cases recently, and on more than one occasion it made me stop and think about current issues. All of which made it a refreshing read.

Although I loved the narrative, I did find myself questioning some of the side characters and their intentions and interactions. Although, I know we were meant to dislike Angus to a certain extent, I found his character kind of dull at times. James was forever hinting that he was loyal to a t and that how he was only doing the right thing by standing by his wife, but I couldn’t get over the infidelity issue. In a way, it made the novel all that more complex, and unpredictable.

What annoyed me more however was the relationship between Hannah and both her parents, particularly Jodi and Hannah’s relationship. Hannah is your typical, everyday teenager struggling to find her way in society and acting out for attention at times. And while I understand that the book was meant to be focused primarily around Jodi’s mistake and the repercussions it had on her family and friends and society some twenty-four/twenty-five years later, I just felt there were too many unanswered questions left regarding Hannah, even if that wasn’t the point of the book.

Jodi’s life crumbles when she finds out Hannah has broken her leg, enabling a chance encounter between Jodi and some of the hospital’s senior personnel who remember Jodi from her secret pregnancy. Fair enough Jodi and Angus have enough on their plate dealing with the police and the ongoing investigations that this encounter provokes, not to mention the threat of a murder charge hovering precariously over Jodi’s head when evidence is scare. But there are plenty of heated interactions between Hannah and her Mother, and Father, for that matter, that never really go any where. At the beginning of the book, it comes to light that Hannah was doing E when she broke her leg, and this combined with a few other incidences – such as the time she brought Wes home and the disaster that was – I felt that James was setting Hannah and Jodi up for some big discovery, some big mother-daughter breakthrough for each character to understand each other a bit more. But it never happened. There’s constant references regarding Hannah’s complete lack of recognition and understanding of who her mother is throughout the upheaval. And we are lead to believe that while Jodi is understandably not happy with her daughter’s actions she is still looking out for best interests; but they never get far enough to work anything out. There’s not really a big confrontation between the two. Yes, Hannah throws a vase near her Mother’s head when everything is first let out of the bag, and she mocks her mother ruthlessly at school for her own entertainment and popularity, but she is trying to not only gain Jodi’s attention, but to enrage her; get her to act in some manner to suggest that everything is not okay. From early on in the book we are lead to believe that although they may have their differences, Jodi and Hannah share a close bond. So why doesn’t Jodi seek out her troubled daughter during the chaos that disrupts their lives? Why doesn’t she question her daughters whereabouts and activities, especially when she acknowledges that things are not okay with Hannah and that there is more than meets the eye going on. I think what frustrated me the most about their relationship is that the explanation of the E and all that at the beginning of the book kind of resembled a gun in the narrative. And for years, I’ve read and been told, that if you’re including one, the readers are going to expect a smoking gun at some point, otherwise what is the point in including it? So apart from showing that Jodi was affected by the talk of baby Elsa Mary, why put it in there? I think this mostly bothered me, because when the book ends, and everything is wrapped up, Hannah is made to apologise and their relationship is fixed almost as simply as that. They cry and its almost as though nothing between them has changed; obviously it has, as the ending further explains just how much this whole situation changed their lives forever, but it just wasn’t enough.

Overall though, this was a brilliant novel that I could not put down.

Review originally posted on Goodreads on August 13, 2012  and can be found here:

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