The most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves.
Dr Ruth Hartland rises to difficult tasks. She is the director of a highly respected trauma therapy unit. She is confident, capable and excellent at her job. Today she is preoccupied by her son Tom’s disappearance.
So when a new patient arrives at the unit – a young man who looks shockingly like Tom – she is floored.
As a therapist, Ruth knows exactly what she should do in the best interests of her client, but as a mother she makes a very different choice – a decision that will have profound consequences.
Thank you to NetGalley, Faber and Faber and Bev Thomas for the chance to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Ruth Harland is Director of the Trauma Unit which treats patients by encouraging them to talk through their experiences in a safe space in order to begin to heal. It’s a difficult job. To everyone around her Ruth is calm, collected and can deal with anything. But that isn’t the truth. They have no idea about her son Tom’s disappearance eighteen months ago and how preoccupies her thoughts. When Ruth meets new patient Dan Griffin she is struck by his likeness to her son. She knows this will cloud her ability to treat him but all she can see is a chance to save Dan in the way she wasn’t able to save Tom, setting into motion a chain of events with far-reaching consequences.
*Possible trigger warning*
I wanted to read this book as soon as I saw the synopsis but somehow didn’t connect the dots that it would mean so much vivid detail regarding trauma and PTSD. As someone who is struggling with those very issues I found it overwhelming to read at first and very nearly put it aside. But I was enjoying the way it was written, found Ruth interesting and was already invested in knowing what had happened to both Tom and Dan, so I persevered. I’m glad I did as I found that as the story went on it broadened, enabling me to feel more comfortable reading. I wasn’t sure about including this in my review at first but decided that ultimately it might be best so that other readers are aware.
A Good Enough Mother is a cryptic story of love, loss, family and secrets. While I had tremendous sympathy for Ruth in regard to the pain of son’s disappearance, I found she was a protagonist that evoked mixed feelings. Although her job involves telling others they need to work through their trauma by talking about it and facing it, she hides Tom’s disappearance from her co-workers, pretending everything is fine while inside she’s broken and desperately trying to piece herself together. After meeting Dan she compounds the secrets and lies by ignoring not just her instincts, but the boundaries, rules and warning signs of treating him herself. This plunges her and many others headlong into a danger far greater and darker than anyone anticipated.
A large part of this story was about motherhood. While Ruth is proud of her work and ability to help people, what she lives for is motherhood. She loves her twins but it is clear from the flashbacks that she has always favoured her son and has used his personal struggles to reason this was necessary. She has a distant and difficult relationship with her alcoholic mother and in trying to avoid those same mistakes she is blind to her own. All these things negatively impact her marriage and her relationship with her daughter who feels she’s been forgotten behind her brother’s needs. When Tom disappeared it shattered Ruth on so many levels and she has tethered herself to him all his life. She doesn’t just fear that something bad may have happened to him, but that he has chosen a life without her, which is almost even worse.
I devoured this book in just over 24 hours. It was steady paced and held my interest without exception. One of the things I enjoyed was how the book was written in a way that makes the reader aware these are past events. There are references to an incident and the police many times but we never really know who or what this entails other than the events Ruth is describing are leading up to whatever occured. I loved trying to use the breadcrumbs to figure out what had happened and what part each character played. I had a few ideas and really thought I’d figured it out but I couldn’t have been more wrong.
As we got closer to the big reveal I could predict the storm but felt powerless to stop it. There was a roaring dread in my ears and my heart seemed to stop as I held my breath. Surely not? Please let me be wrong? I felt like I was feeling Ruth’s pain at that moment, my heart shattering with hers as all was revealed. This was an emotional novel and fantastic debut from the author.