A Special Relationship by Douglas Kennedy
I've spoken about my love for the novels of Douglas Kennedy already on this blog. Kennedy is an author I first discovered in my early days as a bookseller when I was asked to read his novel for a promotion we were running for undiscovered gems. I read The Big Picture and lobbied hard for this to be on the list. The novel features in my top 10 favourite reads and if ever I was invited onto Between the Covers, my BYOB (Bring your own Book) would be that same book.
Kennedy's novels are always slightly disquieting. Our protagonist usually faces an impossible situation with no way out. But it is the voice of the narrator, usually female which is staggering. Honest, well-done, this could be the voice of me, of you, a friend or in this case a mother.
Sally Goodchild, a 37 year old American journalist, suddenly finds herself pregnant and married to an English correspondent, Tony Hobbs, who she met while they were both on assignment in Cairo.
From the outset, Sally's relationship with both Tony and London is an uneasy one - as she finds her husband and his city to be more foreign than she imagined. But her problems soon turn to nightmares when she discovers that everything can be taken down and used against you.
Please note, this novel does deal very candidly with post-natal depression and a difficult childbirth. If this is any kind of trigger for you, I would maybe give this novel a wide berth.
As I mentioned in the intro, Douglas Kennedy is one of my favourite authors. Whilst Kennedy's novels have enjoyed a lot of success, featuring in top seller lists, they have never quite reached the top echelons, which is a grave injustice in my opinion, given that the writing is sublime.
Like a lot of Douglas Kennedy's novels, he writes in the first person, and usually as a female. Sally Goodchild is astoundingly fearless as a journalist covering war-torn parts of the world where she is often never entirely safe. This is done in a man's world and one in which she holds her own. There she meets a fellow journalist, Tony Hobbs, they begin a tempestuous affair. When Sally falls pregnant, both decide to opt for a quieter life in London and get married.
It is then that in true Douglas Kennedy style, Sally descends into an ever spiralling bleakness. She struggles to adjust to London and her pregnancy, failing to understand the British unspoken nuances. As she becomes poorly from her pregnancy and is forced to give up work, her isolation grows. Tony himself is struggling to adapt to an office-based role, working late and opting for trips into the field. Her isolation is now complete.
Following a difficult birth, Sally struggles to bond with her son and receiving little support from the medical staff or Tony she feels judged and alone. Finally she receives the care she needs when she enters a residential facility for women with severe post-natal depression and begins her slow recovery, bonding with her child. It is then the bomb drops.....Tony has taken out a court order to take her son away from her. With no money, form of income, and about to lose her son, what can Sally do?
Douglas Kennedy writes so, so well about impossible situations. Situations so dire, it seems there is no way out. His novels are a testament to digging deep and coming back from the brink. As Sally finds her first friend in London, she slowly gets stronger and starts to fight back. The court case in the last 30% of the book is true page-turning stuff. I found myself staying later and later awake just to read it!
The title could refer to the bond between mother and son, but in this case, it refers to how one special relationship can truly change the course of a person's life. A friend who suggests the right thing at the right time, a person who surprises you, an innocuous solicitor, who turns out to be a woman's greatest ally.
In conclusion, this is a wonderful page-turner, exploring human relationships and being a stranger in a strange land. It's yet another brilliant Douglas Kennedy novel.