Whenever a book tackles a difficult and delicate subject it’s always a gamble as to how it will come across to the readers. Jacqueline Ward has managed to broach of domestic violence delicately and sensitively, although some of the more graphic descriptions of events may be a trigger for anyone who has had experience of an abusive relationship.
Ria is the main character, a wife, mother and manager of a women’s refuge whose partner Danny has gone to work on an international contract which will earn him more money in 30 days than he would usually make in many months. They want to put the money aside and buy a house, something Danny has wanted for a very long time.
Not long after Danny leaves, Ria is nervous and unused to being alone with their two children. At the centre, she receives a mobile phone, upon which frightening messages begin to appear. From here, things escalate quickly, Ria’s is being stalked, and is even physically threatened – but why? Is this something from her past that is catching up with her, or is it someone angry that their abused wife has found somewhere safe to escape to?
There are a couple of side threads here, a harrowing account of an abused partner, an ongoing battle to save the centre from corrupt politicians who are in league with a high-profile local criminal who is no stranger to wife-beating himself, and Ria and Danny’s respective families, and what they bring to the story.
While I enjoyed this book overall, there were a couple of things that niggled me. I guessed one of the major twists just after it was introduced at around 20% through the book. That thread was really predictable to me, and although I wasn’t quite sure how it was going to fit in, I knew what was happening. The dialogue between Ria and the abused women at the refuge is very well written, and it’s frustrating and upsetting in equal measure when you begin to understand why some of them keep going back, or why they can’t really leave, and how the system fails them again and again. There were certain things that Ria did in relation to the sinister messages that she was receiving that left me thinking…why – why would someone experienced in this field allow this type of behaviour to continue? Why, knowing that you mustn’t give control to an abuser, didn’t she just throw the random phone away the second she got a frightening message on it? It seemed really odd to me that she continuously read and replied to the messages and I think it felt a bit too obviously like a plot device. Also, the last day of the contract decision really annoyed me – it seemed like a massive waste of time to go through what they did to make that kind of choice – but I don’t want to spoil it, if you get to the end, you’ll know what I’m talking about.
All that said, it is a challenging and thought-provoking book, and although I felt it dragged sometimes, I did need to read to the end to find out what happened. It’s not perfect, but there is plenty to recommend it and the author does deal with an incredibly delicate subject with sensitivity and insight.