What happened to baby Annabelle? (4 stars)
Source- review copy
Due for publication from Kensington on 24th December 2012
I reviewed the Kindle edition- the paperback is 352 pages.
After reading quite a few serial killers and thrillers lately, I was in the mood for an emotional family drama, and thankfully had this waiting on my TBR pile. This new-to-me author’s latest work sounded really compelling and I was keen to see if it could deliver just what it promised from its compelling sounding summary. What happens when suddenly you have everything you ever wanted, yet things just aren’t what you imagined them to be?
This novel answers that question; it focuses on new mum Chelsea Maynard, a former career girl who feels entirely out of her depth in adjusting to her new responsibilities as a parent. She has dark thoughts and can’t seem to bond with her three month old baby Annabelle, in what her doctor simply passes off as ‘the baby blues.’ Emma, Chelsea’s sister seems convinced that it’s more than that and that Chelsea is suffering from postnatal (postpartum) depression. Before this can be addressed however, Annabelle vanishes- and Chelsea can’t seem to remember just what happened on the evening in question. Did she really do something to hurt her own daughter? Or did someone take her…?
This was a novel of sensitivity and depth and was a very intriguing read all around, with some well-drawn characters that I enjoyed getting to know. There are a lot of themes covered, not only addressing postnatal depression and its effects, but also the deeper issues of family and relationships. This book also taps into the fears of every new parent and I did think it was very emotionally written in parts.
I have to say that I immediately got the sense of how isolated Chelsea felt in her new role- motherhood overwhelms her and she doesn’t have a big support system around her, particularly having lost her own mother recently. She has also given up her career prior to Annabelle’s birth, so feels a bit lost in adjusting to her new responsibilities. Whilst her family try their best to support her, it appears that it is only Emma who recognises Chelsea’s symptoms are not just ‘baby blues’ and that she can’t just ‘snap out of it,’ which is usually a common attitude. Chelsea feels deeply frustrated at her loss of self and independence and I felt this was conveyed particularly well. The book is bleak at times and it did make me feel a bit down too towards the start, but I’m glad I persevered with it, as once the pace picked up it became a very absorbing read.
A few things prevent me from deeming this book to be a perfectly written drama however; namely the fact that I really found myself sceptical that so many people wouldn’t have intervened in Chelsea’s troubled situation sooner- i.e. her husband for one- and the other primary caregiver of Annabelle. The fact that Chelsea was crying out for help and was actually unable to be around a knife block without having dark thoughts didn’t seem to strike a chord with him even a teeny weeny bit? The fact that alarm bells were ringing yet he still left her alone with their baby didn’t really resonate with me and it didn’t feel believable. I know this was a fictional drama and it needed to work for plot purposes… but come on!
Also: Chelsea’s initial unsympathetic doctor was just such a terribly written cliché. I did cringe a bit when I read about Leo’s unstable ex-wife and the erratic next door neighbour too. All were plot devices but they did feel a bit ‘pantomime’ in parts and admittedly a little bit stereotypical. I think these were the only aspects I found myself not enjoying though.
Despite some of the clichés and stereotypes, I found this to be a riveting family drama and one that I raced through within a few hours, quite gripped by all of the clever twists and turns. Well-written and impeccably researched, this is a tightly plotted novel that tackles some important issues. I think this book is sure to be welcomed by fans of Sophie Hannah and Anita Shreve, and it is safe to say that I will certainly be looking up some of this author’s earlier work in the near future.