Sasha Moloney awakens from a general anaesthetic to discover that she has delivered a baby boy – not the girl she was convinced she was having – by caesarean section almost a month early. It takes a single glance at the child in the nursery to convince Sasha that he isn’t hers, that her child has been mixed up – either accidentally or deliberately – with another child. It’s no surprise that no-one at the hospital believes her, especially when she has nothing to go on except her own intuition; what does come as a surprise is when her husband, Mark, also refuses to believe her. Before she can understand what’s happening, Sasha finds herself voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric ward, her only plan to somehow prove that her child has been stolen and replaced with someone else’s. But Sasha doesn’t have the happiest of backgrounds, and during her stay in the mother-baby unit, she discovers truths about her mother that her father has withheld for over thirty years, so that she begins to question her own sanity.
Here’s my headline review of Susi Fox’s debut novel: I’m still not really sure. Did I hate it? Not in the least (though the same cannot be said for some of the characters). Did I love it? Far from it, unfortunately, but a week later, I’m still trying to get my head around what I liked about it, and what I didn’t, and that speaks volumes in itself: I keep going back in my mind to the events of Mine and trying to work out just how satisfied with the story I am, and that’s sometimes not something I can say for even those books that I love outright.
The central idea is excellent, an all-too-realistic fear that can nag at the edges of even the most grounded parent’s mind: your child has been taken, switched for another, and no-one can tell the difference except you. What I struggled with was the central character, our narrator, Sasha, who believes from the outset that this has happened. It’s an intense portrayal, but there’s something off about the character, some smug, know-it-all feature that holds the reader at a remove and leaves us not really caring whether the baby belongs to her or not. The uncertainty is, of course, the whole point of the story: Sasha’s family background, and her own personal history, leave plenty of room for ambiguity, but it’s difficult to connect with the character on the level where we think “is it her baby?” or, more crucially, “I hope, if it’s not her baby, she manages to get her baby back!”.
Our view of the world is tinted significantly through our association with Sasha: we immediately dislike Ursula, the midwife who is the first person Sasha sees when she awakes, and distrust the various other doctors and nurses with whom we come into contact. Again, the strength of Sasha’s commitment, and the level of her paranoia, work in concert to imprint these opinions on us, and it certainly makes for a fast-paced and gripping read, but it sometimes feels that the first person narrative puts us too close to the situation, so that we’re unable to form our own opinions, or work through the various clues in our own time.
My other problem with the novel is the way in which it ends. It’s impossible to say more without spoilers, but you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about when you encounter it. It’s a big part of the reason I keep returning to the story and, while there is much about the novel about which I am unsure, this is not one of them.
In short, it’s an excellent debut, well-plotted and nicely written, though for me there’s just something lacking in the character development. In a market swamped with excellent debut thrillers, it’s in danger of slipping through the cracks, though it’s timed nicely so that it will make an excellent beach- or poolside-read.