‘Little Lovely Things’ by Maureen Joyce Connolly ⭐⭐⭐⭐

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A mother’s chance decision leads to a twist of fate that is every parent’s worst nightmare.

Claire Rawlings, mother of two and medical resident, will not let the troubling signs of an allergic reaction prevent her from making it in for rounds. But when Claire’s symptoms overpower her while she’s driving into work, her two children in tow, she must pull over. Moments later she wakes up on the floor of a gas station bathroom – her car and her precious girls have vanished.

The police have no leads and the weight of guilt presses down on Claire as each hour passes with no trace of her girls. All she has to hold on to are her strained marriage,  a potentially unreliable witness who emerges days later, and the desperate but unquenchable belief that her daughters are out there somewhere.

Little Lovely things is the story of a family shattered by an unthinkable tragedy. Played out in multiple narrative voices, the novel explores how the lives of those affected fatefully intersect, and highlights the potential catastrophe of the small decisions we make every day.

Thank you to Maureen Joyce Connolly, Sourcebooks Landmark and Netgalley for the chance to read and review this book.

It’s a normal, chaotic morning for Claire Rawlings. A medical resident, she faces the regular stress of all working parents to get her young children Andrea, 4, and 15-month-old Lily, ready and out of the door on time. This particular morning she seems to be having an allergic reaction so she takes medication and tries to ignore the pounding in her head. As she drives she is overcome by her increasing symptoms so pulls over to use the bathroom of the gas station. All of a sudden she awakes to find the open door locked and her car containing her precious daughters has gone. The police, an ambulance, and her husband, Glen soon arrive. The stranger she had first alerted to their disappearance even drives to search for them in the direction he saw the stolen car take off. But it is all in vain, there are no clues and both the car and her children appear to have vanished into thin air.

Moira Kelly and Eamon O’Neil are Irish Travellers. They were banished by their clan and finding it increasingly harder to survive being so isolated. On their way to breakfast they spot Claire running into the bathroom. Telling themselves she’s a drug addict undeserving of her children, Eamon decides to steal the car along with the two girls much to Moira’s horror. She demands he takes them back but not only is it against their culture for a traveller woman to order her man what to do, but he holds a secret over her that she is in fear of him exposing. He decides they will take them to a secluded cabin and orders her to drive with the girls in the trunk of their own car so that they aren’t discovered.

Claire lives in limbo as time passes without clues or witnesses. Eventually a witness comes forward with a devastating discovery. Jay White is freshly out of prison, making him an unreliable witness and most of his tale is dismissed by the police. As the years pass they try to move on but the tragedy haunts them, with Claire and Glen living separate lives. The kidnappers live in constant fear of what they did that day being discovered. As they live their lives what none of them foresee is how their fates will converge years later in unexpected ways and how their decisions that day will affect all their lives for many years to come.

The story was narrated by Claire, Moira, Andrea and Jay, which gave us an insight into how not only the parents and one of the victims are affected by the events, which are points of view often explored in these kinds of stories, but also the thoughts and experiences of the kidnappers and a witness. As a mother I had a lot of empathy for Claire but I will admit my immediate reaction on reading that she went to the bathroom without her children made me wonder what on earth she was thinking. This in no way means I thought she deserved to experience every parents worst nightmare, she certainly didn’t, but I did think there were steps she could have taken to at least make what happened less easy for Eamon. I thought her grief and guilt were well written, as was how her marriage was affected by the tragedy. Moira is a hard character to like. I empathised with her in the beginning:  being in an abusive relationship and the heartbreaking things she had gone through in life. I also admired how she at least tried to get Eamon to return the girls. But after that all trace of empathy for her disappeared and I found her chapters hard to get through as she was such a vile character. I do think this was necessary though as without it the story wouldn’t have had the same trajectory and you don’t really want to like the person who’s taken two children. Her traveller background did provide an insight into how she would justify and do things that are unthinkable to a lot of people, something that would have been missing from her character without that. The character I liked most, and I didn’t expect this, was Jay. He had a life mired by tragedy and the scene where he makes his discovery is heartbreaking and raw. You see the goodness in him. Also as someone fresh out of prison a lot of people wouldn’t have tried to help like he did. Seeing how much it all affected him years later endeared me to him too. He was genuinely a man trying to change his life, live right and do the right thing whenever possible. Andrea’s chapters were some of the funniest and most heartbreaking to read. The way she was written when she was taken was fantastic and the scene where she thinks she’s been swallowed by a monster when she’s in the trunk struck me as exactly how a four year old would think in that situation and her terror at realising she’s been taken is heart-rending. The tenacity, intelligence and feistiness she possesses were perfect for her character.

Little Lovely Things is a readable psychological thriller filled with tension and drama from the start. Many times it is very raw as we are given an insight into the darkest moments in people’s lives. From the start of part 2 I was sure I knew how the story would end and it turned out that just like my expectations for much of this book, while I was partially right the author also surprised me with the many twist and turns it took . A great book for anyone who enjoys this genre.

Out April 2nd.

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