My rating: 4 of 5 stars
As with my review of the first book in this series (‘My adopted life: A birth mothers story’), my copy of this book was given to me to review and I do so freely and without compulsion. Likewise, this was a book I specifically asked for after enjoying the first so much. No doubt, I shall ask for the third and final instalment when it is ready.
In the first book, the author tells her own birth story from the point of view of her birth mother, during the turn of the 60s in northern Britain. We remain in the North for this second book, but now the story is told from her adopted mother’s point of view. Abigail Hennessey appears to be the perfect choice of mother for the baby Hannah as we pick up the story where we left off in the first. She’s married to a morally upright policeman who intends to make something of himself and the future looks secure for a bright and stable life for Hannah.
Alas, as you might guess, it does not prove to be so. Charles Hennessey proves to be a far from perfect husband and father to their two adopted children. We go through the best part of two decades of increasing infidelity, physical abuse and, probably worst of all, mental torturing.
As with the first book, this second one is marred by a few typos and errors of style but these are minimal. The style in general is similar to the previous volume where the author does not always choose to obey the niceties of conventional story-telling. Indeed, the layout itself is odd in having no page numbers, the book being a different size to the first, the inclusion of chapters which the first didn’t have and, most intriguingly, no intervening pages between the cover the beginning of the story. You literally turn the cover and you’re straight into chapter one.
Does this matter? I think it is something to consider for future editions if all three books have at least the same size format. Apart from that, what need is there of page numbers? It would be nice to have some information about the author herself, and perhaps a preamble explaining how the book was researched – though would that distract from the story?
But on the other hand, I love the directness of the layout. You turn that cover and you’re immediately back in the world you previously inhabited with Lizzie Brady and seamlessly move into Abigail’s nightmare. Whether planned or not, this is something of a stroke of genius. You remain in Abigail’s hellish life right to the end, transfixed, drawn to get to the end where Hannah is, finally, beginning to be person in her own right, ready to tell her part of the story in the next book.
What is most brilliant is how A.H.M. Beattie is able to present a very real, very ‘normal’ world – one I remember from the 70s myself. In a fictional novel, domestic violence is graphically sensationalised. You marvel at how any of the characters would remain in such extreme situations and how those surrounding inevitably don’t notice or refuse to do anything about it. Such tales are usually a little OTT.
With this story, the truth rings out. Charles isn’t a control freak, who beats his family daily and who rules with a fearful iron rod. At times he’s relatively weak and out of control, scared of Abigail herself at times albeit because of the implications for his job. He is a selfish and vain man, self-obsessed and frustrated with his own life. I suspect that if he were a young man today he might actually be receiving mental health support. But unfortunately for Abigail and the children, it isn’t today – it is fifty years ago or more. The need to obey, keep up appearances and keep secrets for fear of lives and careers being ruined in an instant, was all too true during that time. It isn’t so much that you need convincing why Abigail would stay; it’s that you too can’t possibly see how she would feasibly find a way out.
Just as with the first book then, this is an excellent and deeply moving story which will intrigue and draw in any reader who enjoys reading of family drama or period biographies. The writing is compelling and I will most certainly want to read the conclusion of this series. My acid test of ‘do I care what happens next to the characters?’ is absolutely measuring “Yes, yes, and again I say, Yes!”
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at email@example.com. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.
Ken writes for a number of publications around the world. Past reviewer for Paste magazine, The Doughnut, E2D and United Airways, and currently reviews for Lancashire Life magazine and Northern Arts Review.