The Children, by Charlotte Wood

You bring your children up to escape sorrow. You spend your best years trying to stop them witnessing it on television, in you, in your neighbours’ faces. Then you realise, slowly, that they must steer their own way through life’s cruelties.

When their father falls off the roof and lies critically injured in hospital, Mandy, Stephen and Cathy come home for the first time in years. Like any family, there are rivalries and hurts between the three, which must be confronted as they sit at their father’s bedside and try to support their mother. Mandy has raced back from Baghdad where, as a foreign correspondent, she deals with death on a daily basis. Cathy, her sister has joined her on the trip down, driven by Mandy’s husband Chris. And Stephen, the prodigal, has eventually arrived unannounced to join the rest.

As Geoff lies dying, the three alternately comfort and confront, dealing with past and present hurts. Margaret, their mother, must also confront her own fears and insecurities – about lost chances and her track record as mother and wife. But someone else is involved, too. A stranger who no one remembers. Tony is a wardsman at the hospital, but is also a figure from Mandy’s past, determined to become part of her current life. His presence is unwanted, and dangerous.

The Children is an insightful novel, looking at family relationships and the effects of death and illness on these connections, as well as on the impact that being exposed to violence can have on an individual. Moving through the long and emotional days of the family’s bedside vigil, the story offers the multiple viewpoints of the different players, so that the reader is drawn into the differing perspectives of the family members and comes to care about what happens to them.

This is an absorbing read.

The Children

The Children, by Charlotte Wood
Allen & Unwin, 2007

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