The Lone Child
Anna George’s first book was the well-regarded crime thriller What Came Before. Her new novel, The Lone Child, is less criminal and more psychological in focus, but it’s just as thrilling. It’s a story about the effects of motherhood and the moral choices made while under intense psychological pressure.
Neve Ayres is a single architect who, at almost 40, has just had her first baby, Cliff. It’s early days, but she’s struggling: her would-be partner went back to his wife just before Cliff’s birth, and Neve is overwhelmed, exhausted and alone. Cliff cries all the time, and doesn’t sleep properly. Neve is smart, sophisticated and used to feeling more in control than this. She has plenty of money and a beautiful beach house at Flinders, on Victoria’s coast, and while walking the baby on the beach on a cold and stormy Easter weekend, she sees a small girl, Tayla, fall into deep water. Neve isn’t gracious about it, but she rescues her.
Tayla’s mother, Leah, appears in the distance and collects her, but that’s not Neve’s only encounter with the girl. A short time later, they meet again. Neve herself has been motherless since she was a small girl. Tayla now appears that way also but she isn’t: Leah has been deserted by her partner and is broke and homeless, living in her clapped-out car with Tayla and another child. She’s frightened to report Tayla missing, in case her children are removed by the Child Protection Service. For Neve, the girl represents a chance to create a proper family, and perhaps re-create the childhood she herself never had. She renames her “Jessie”, but things are not what they seem.
It’s a thin story, padded by a lot of interior exposition and a third perspective, that of a stonemason and romantic interest who comes to fix Neve’s front wall. The socio-economic gap between Neve and Leah is squarely middle-class in its bias, but The Lone Child is a cracking read. Although contemporary in setting, it reminded me favourably of M. L. Stedman’s international bestseller, The Light Between Oceans – The Lone Child is less sentimental. In presenting her story from both Neve’s and Leah’s perspective, George shows us the folly in the assumptions that each woman makes about the other, and the result is an emotional page-turner. This is clever writing from a novelist with superior technical skills and a keen eye on her readers. LS
Viking, 288pp, $29.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Aug 12, 2017 as "Anna George, The Lone Child". Subscribe here.