“Call me Mummy” is the new explosive debut novel that should catapult author Tina Baker right to the top of the bestseller lists. A smart, yet terrifying look at the circumstances surrounding the abduction of a little girl from under her mum’s nose in a shopping centre and the parallels that exist between the devastated family left behind and the little girl’s abductor – who insists the terrified six year old refers to her as the titular ‘Mummy’.
Alongside the disturbing primary plot, the uncomfortable theme that runs through the soul of the book is one that’s eerily topical right now; the heroes and villains created by the media and how reputations and lives can be made or broken by the careful manipulation and projection of seemingly straightforward circumstances.
The story itself is told from a couple of different perspectives, but focuses mostly on Kim, six year old Tonya’s heartbroken Mum, and the little girl’s abductor ‘Mummy’.
With very little money, several kids, a fondness for drink and ciggies and a potty mouth, Kim becomes a media-created demon; her bad and sometimes aggressive attitude may be completely understandable to us, the reader, but is ultimately not helpful when dealing with the hordes that worship the sidebar of shame, who see her as an unfit mother who neglected her daughter, and aren’t frightened to declare that they think she deserved to lose her. At one point Kim is actually physically assaulted due to the misunderstanding of a situation that was cultivated and perpetuated by the media.
In the much nicer, posher part of town, well educated and well off ‘Mummy’ finally has the child she has always dreamed of, but it’s not turning out the way she thought it would. The child is rude, ungrateful, virtually feral and worst of all godless – and ‘Mummy’ quickly realises that she must cleanse this poor child of her past, punishing and starving her until she starts to accept and embrace her new reality. Which given Tonya’s strength of character and spirit, may well be never.
Tina Baker writes so well and so thoughtfully that it’s a big surprise that this is her first novel. You may know her name already from her long career as a daytime TV television critic (or for winning Celebrity Fit Club) which is probably one of the reasons she understands the media so well, but with this debut she can certainly add ‘successful author’ to her CV. I was lucky enough to chat with Tina as I read this book in daily ‘staves’ on the Pigeonhole book club and she was funny, smart and loved being involved with her readers, explaining plot choices and character inspiration as we went along.
It’s not an easy or comfortable read, not just because of the abuse little Tonya receives, or the unravelling of the circumstances that led to our two main characters being who and where they are in life, but also because it makes the reader face the reality of the lives behind the tabloid headlines; the damage that can be done by those pushing an agenda or opinion by framing events and people in a certain way. There may be times when the reader finds themselves asking questions about their own unconscious bias and how they would react to these characters if they were real and appearing on the ten o’clock news, but ultimately that’s a good thing. We all need to be more aware of how easily we can be manipulated by the mainstream media.
A fantastic debut, I look forward very much to what Tina follows this up with!