A Mother Never Lies is the debut novel from Sarah Clarke. As the novel starts we meet Phoebe Taylor, 40 something and recently returned home to London after 14 years away. She’s living with her parents in their home and frankly they’ve all seen better days. Her Mum is a (mostly) functioning alcoholic and the relationship between Phoebe and her ageing parents is difficult, to say the least.

As the story progresses, we learn that Phoebe once had a little boy called Charlie and that he, for some reason, was put up for adoption. It’s made clear that this is following some kind of traumatic event although we don’t know what that is. She’s struggling with this and despite the fact that she is not legally allowed to approach him – a point that’s made to her face several times – she has made the decision that she’s going to try and find him. He’d be almost 18 now and Phoebe’s desire to tell him the truth about what happened to make her life fall apart and give him up overwhelms her. Meanwhile, Charlie is now called Ben and has been living with his adopted family for the last 14 years. Living quite a privileged lifestyle with a sister only a year apart in age from him, Ben feels uneasy. He knows he was adopted, feels as though he can’t do anything right for his parents, and he’s fed up being the ‘black sheep’ of the family. Indeed as you read on, you start to wonder why these people adopted the boy in the first place, they seem so ill-placed and unwilling to deal with his obviously complex needs.

Phoebe takes some risks and starts hanging around local schools hoping to catch sight of her boy. She is asked to move on a few times and then a chance encounter means she recognises Ben and follows him to a coffee shop that he works at. She befriends him and ends up being there at the right time when a job comes up – obviously she jumps at the chance. If it all seems a bit convenient, well, it is, but it’s really well done and the circumstances seem pretty believable.

Their friendship becomes stronger and the relationship between them develops. Ben starts to look to Phoebe for the support he doesn’t feel that he gets from his adopted Mum. There’s a weird energy between the two when you feel that on some level they KNOW that they are closer than they think, but Phoebe always takes that essential step back when she feels she’s getting too close. At times, she takes too much of a risk but gets away with it as she’s so aware of the explosive potential of her ‘secret’ getting out.

Phoebe is a complex character. She’s selfish, and has tunnel vision when it comes to Ben but there are reasons for that and they become obvious the more we learn about the circumstances that led to their separation. She is so unable to take her eyes off the prize of getting her son back in her life that she does things that put them all in danger, however when you know her history you really have to try and forgive her for that. But Ben is fragile, and needs to be handled with kid gloves – he’s like a firework waiting to go off and Phoebe is in danger of accidentally lighting the fuse. When things come to a head I was almost holding my breath to find out what was going to happen but there’s a satisfying conclusion. No tidy bows and ribbons here rather hope and a sense of forgiveness, of both others and of the self.

I loved reading an early edition of this book via the Pigeonhole book club and so have to give it 5 stars. It’s hard to believe it’s a debut because it’s so beautifully written and the characters are so rich and complex. There’s also a couple of lines in this book that are absolute zingers – you know when things work on more than one level because you know more than the characters do? Some perfect examples of this in this book. A clever and intelligent debut.

Released on 27 August 2021 by HQ Digital

About the Author: Sarah Clarke

Sarah Clarke is a writer living in South West London with her husband, children and stubbornly cheerful cockapoo. Over fifteen years, Sarah has built a successful career as a marketing copywriter, but her dream has always been to become a published author. When her youngest child started secondary school, she joined the Faber Academy Writing A Novel course to learn the craft of writing psychological thrillers. Sarah graduated in 2019 and A Mother Never Lies is her debut novel.