Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
The latest book by Australian writer, Caroline Overington, is called The Cuckoo’s Cry with the additional rider, ‘when a stranger comes to stay’.
Immediately I thought of the saying a cuckoo in the nest. According to Wiktionary, the word ‘cuckoo’ can have a couple of meanings when applied to human behaviour. Someone who is cuckoo is a crazy person but also someone can be called a cuckoo if they inveigle themselves into a place where they should not be. This can be expanded to mean a person who attempts to manipulate others to their own greedy whim, making the victim believe that the newcomer is needy which causes the victim to neglect their biological offspring to look after the cuckoo.
I believe this is the premise on which this storyline is based. It is probably what the daughter in this story believes. Widower, Don Barlow, on the cusp of turning seventy, opens his door to a young woman claiming to be his granddaughter.
‘You don’t know me, but my name is Morgan and we’re actually related… I’m going to have to explain it. But I’m in trouble. can I come in?’ (3)
The author has set the story in Bondi just as it is going into lockdown because of the Corona Virus. Throughout the story, reference is made to the restrictions imposed because of the virus and how people living on their own are increasingly feeling more isolated. It is easy to see how a lonely old man could enjoy the company of a younger person at this time especially if he feels he is being chivalrous.
Morgan knows a lot about Don’s previous life but his daughter Danielle is wary. Is someone playing on the feelings of a lonely old man? and if so, why? What do they hope to gain? But she is also aware that her dad seems much happier with someone else in the home. Is she being overprotective? This brings on feelings of guilt for her because she hasn’t visited her father as often as maybe she should have. But Danielle and husband have their own family and a business to run which is also being seriously affected by life under Corona Virus.
Although this book with its 200 pages and double-spaced format could be read in one sitting of approximately two and a half hours, the simple storyline is filled with family relationship issues – teenage pregnancy, adoption, loss of a life partner.
Each of the characters have distinctly different personalities with their own reading of the situation. Through her characterisation, this author has added depth and colour to the simple storyline. She has used her characters to address issues prevalent in today’s society.
The Cuckoo’s Cry is being marketed as a compulsively gripping lockdown thriller. I feel this is a bit over the top. There is tension in the storyline but to call it a ‘thriller’, I believe, is too much. There is only one situation where a life is in real danger. The rest of the story revolves around the need for human contact, jealousy, expectations, and revenge. The only bad characters in this story are those who set out to exploit others. But even these characters generate compassion and sorrow from the reader, rather than horror, as it is easy to see how some people could embark on a life of petty crime because of their own perceived circumstances. They need someone to blame.
The action does not escalate to maybe ‘thriller’ status until the manipulator decides to intervene and this situation occupies only eight pages.
I really liked Morgan even though I knew she was a cuckoo. She had a sensitive side and was capable of compassion. She found a connection with Don which had obviously been missing in her own short life. She was being exploited as much as she exploited others. The reader cannot help but feel that with the correct support she could have turned her life around.
There are some lovely, unexpected twists. Who is the person Morgan is always texting and often steps out of the house to see at night? What are the circumstances surrounding the teenage pregnancy and adoption? What happens to Morgan at the end of the story? These little twists add more richness to what is an interesting but simple storyline.
Caroline Overington twice won the Walkley Award for Investigative Journalism as well as other prestigious awards. She has written many books, both fiction and non-fiction. The latest in this latter category was about the disappearance of William Tyrrell.
Her fiction story, The Cuckoo’s Cry, is an interesting read about human nature and behaviours in a time of uncertainty and restrictions as experienced in Australia in the early 2020s.
The Cuckoo’s Cry
by Caroline Overington