“These are your battle scars, Kate. It’s a battle that you will win. I promise you. You are beautiful.” (4 stars)
Source- personal copy
Published by Head of Zeus- February 5th 2013
Kindle edition; hardcover edition is 323 pages
I’ve read books about domestic abuse in the past- the harrowing ‘Into The Darkest Corner,’ an astonishing debut by Elizabeth Haynes, actually frightened me with its chilling believability, It starkly highlighted the harrowing impact abuse can have on both the sufferer and those around them who may feel powerless to prevent it.
The dark and foreboding cover of that book said it all, so truth be told I wasn’t quite sure what to make of this one; though its summary sounded gripping. In reflection, the cover for this one is actually a bit ‘chicklit’ and really doesn’t do the story itself justice. I’m glad I took a chance on this book though; it was a compelling read and does an excellent job of showing the reader that nobody ever truly knows what is going on behind closed doors and that domestic abuse can-and does- happen to anyone.
From the outset, Kathryn Brooker leads a charmed life, residing with her headmaster husband Mark and their children in an idyllic home in the grounds of Mountbriers Academy. The rustic cottage and manicured gardens are hiding a terrible secret though and affable, likeable Mark isn’t all that he appears which eventually causes Kathryn to reach breaking point and in one shocking moment, change everything…
This story starts with an immediate sense of intrigue and though it is quite slow to get going, eventually builds to some very ominous scenes of Kathryn and her life with her husband and the daily ordeal that she undergoes. Through the medium of flashbacks (which are very effective) the reader comes to comprehend the suffering that Kathryn hides on a daily basis and has done from the beginning of her marriage- from everyone. She hides her fear behind a false smile and shelters her two children from the knowledge of what their father is really like, and the worst part is that she has no one to turn to for help. You can feel her desperation and terror seeping from the pages at the constant humiliations she endures. I really wanted to see Mark getting his comeuppance; he is a genuinely evil person and I despised the way he treated his wife- he sadly felt all too believable in his actions and attitude.
Character-wise, I really liked Kathryn, though she was made out to be weak at first, following events she eventually managed to turn the terrible circumstances she had been through into something positive, which added an uplifting tone to the book and I really admired her for that. I also loved her best friend Natasha who was a source of support to her. I thought her two children were completely self-absorbed brats to be honest though; I wanted to reach into the book and shake them and tell them to look after their mum. Then again, they were portrayed as realistic teenagers and were apparently as blind to their father’s faults as anyone else.
Though the story could have been thoroughly depressing, there were subtle moments of strength and minor victories achieved by Kathryn (Kate) that added a sense of triumph to the narrative and actually made this a really satisfying read.
Without risk of giving away any spoilers, I do feel that this story was all tied up a bit too quickly (and neatly) – hence the four stars instead of five. Also, there were a couple of aspects that didn’t quite make sense to me- I don’t understand how Kathryn (Kate) could undergo childbirth twice and not have her scars be seen by a doctor or midwife, for example. That didn’t feel particularly realistic. Though domestic abuse doesn’t always have a reason, I also wanted to know what made Mark act in the way that he did; did he have a bad childhood? Had he been abused himself? There were none of those psychological factors included and I feel that it might have added a bit more depth to the novel.
Though I haven’t read Prowse’s first novel ‘Poppy Day’ and wasn’t particularly drawn to its premise, after witnessing her writing style here I might reconsider giving that one a try at some point soon. Ultimately What Have I Done? was a compelling story of forgiveness, family and redemption that I think would make an excellent story for book clubs as it has a lot of thought-provoking themes, suitable for detailed discussion.