It is every families worst nightmare. Sally and Richard take their ten month old son to the hospital with a fever, a swollen arm and he won’t stop crying. They discover his arm is broken, but how did it happen? Sally, Richard and Richard’s teenage daughter, Martha, find themselves under suspicion.
Sally is exhausted by motherhood, she feels alone staying at home all day with Oliver. Richard is feeling pushed out and angry with Sally, he works all day and just wants to relax when he comes home. Martha resents Oliver, she is no longer her dad’s only child and finds herself on the outside looking in at his new wife and new baby. All three have things to hide and reasons to hurt Oliver.
Hush Little Baby is one of those books that gets under your skin from the start. It is every parents worst nightmare that their child gets harmed and they find themselves under suspicion. It is the authenticity of the plot and is characters that make this a disturbing read. The book is narrated by the three main characters, Sally, Richard and Martha. Each character narrates their back story to this point, their actions that night and the effect it is having on them and those around them. It also gives them a chance to air their suspicions of those around them. None of the characters come out well; I found I had sympathy for Sally as the mother having her baby taken away and only allowed supervised visits where she is put under scrutiny. She has a troubled background dealing with an eating disorder as a teenager and not having very understanding parents. However, there is a selfish side to her and a whiff of suspicion. Richard is really a despicable character in my view. He is self centred, a narcissist, an adulterer and is one of those people who always blames their actions on others. He is irresponsible in his duties as a father, especially to fifteen year old Martha who lives with Sally and himself. Martha was the only character I really did empathise with. At fifteen she is going through those terrible teenage years where you are trying to fit in at school, and are in-between childhood and adulthood. It is no wonder she makes some bad choices in life given that her mother didn’t want her living with her so she had to move in with her father and his new wife Sally, and her father doesn’t give her the attention she deserves. Obviously this breeds contempt where Sally and Oliver are concerned. I found I felt a bit voyeuristic to this families disintegration.
This is a well written book and a compelling read. It deals with the controversial issues of self harm, eating disorders, OCD, drugs, infidelity and the taboos around parenthood. All these issues are dealt with understanding and empathy and are in no way sensationalised. I don’t know much about the social system but it seemed to be a realistic account of what could happen in the circumstances at the heart of this book. I found this more suspenseful than the build up to what actually happened to Oliver, and as a whole I didn’t find it a ‘suspenseful’ novel, more a Domestic Noir. It has been described as ‘The most gripping domestic suspense you’ll read this year’, but I found I was disappointed by the book. I think the plot was a bit obvious and at times dragged on, I didn’t feel there was a build up of suspense and the ending was an anticlimax for me.