Reviewed by Dianne Nielsen
Having enjoyed Sanjida Kay’s first book Bone by Bone I opened The Stolen Child in anticipation of a similar reading experience. I was not prepared for the tension that gripped and released then gripped again. This is a book that is full of darkness.
The story concerns a young English couple Zoe and Ollie who after years of infertility adopt a little girl from birth. They name her Evie. The child’s birth mother is a drug addict and Evie has physical and behavioural problems as a result. About seven years later Zoe, Ollie and Evie have moved to Zoe’s native Yorkshire. A baby boy has been conceived naturally and they are happy. They have a beautiful house, a good income and Zoe, an artist, is preparing a new exhibition. Zoe struggles with the pressures of motherhood and working.
Two year old Ben is a happy child and Ollie works long hours at his accountancy business. However, Zoe resents the long hours he works, hours he could have spent with her. When Zoe discovers that Evie has received cards and presents from someone claiming to be her real father she is concerned but also aggrieved that Ollie will not offer her the comfort and support she craves. He is angry that someone would do this, but does not feel as she does that someone is posing a threat to the family’s future.
Childcare is never a problem as the town is made up of potential babysitters. Thus Zoe has the freedom to escape from her chores to spend her time painting on the moors. A sculptor named Harris would like to be more than a friend, but Zoe’s life is a mixture of caring for a demanding toddler, unease at the attention someone claiming to be the little girl’s father is lavishing on her daughter, and frustration with Ollie.
Then Evie disappears.
Suddenly everyone, including Zoe’s husband, is under suspicion. The police investigation reveals secrets that appear to set at naught former relationships. While Zoe is feeling guilty, angry and inadequate, her husband focuses on his work. It is as if through work he can deal best with personal pain. The search for Evie becomes bogged down until Zoe takes action on her own initiative.
While the reader can understand at least some of the pain that Zoe is suffering, she remains an inadequate character. I could not warm to her. She is depicted as a talented artist but too incompetent to program an electric oven. There is no questioning her love for her children but her decision-making is not always laudable.
Ollie, the husband, morphs from a sensitive loving husband at the beginning of the book to a selfish workaholic at the end who leaves all the parenting to his wife. This transformation irritated me.
There are some ‘bright spots’ in this dank novel. The letters were well done and the psychology that focuses the book was adequate. Many lives, formerly built on trust, reveal how fragile this commodity can be.
Sanjida Kay is a British writer, journalist and broadcaster. She has published both fiction and non-fiction books. Some of the latter has a focus on natural history and scientific pursuits. Her doctorate thesis was on chimpanzees.
In The Stolen Child we read a story of compassion that is presented emotively but, nevertheless, with skill. Though the characters will not inspire everybody the thriller component is electrifying. Definitely recommended reading.
By Sanjida Kay
Allen & Unwin
ISBN: 978-1-7823969-1- 8