Book Review: The Son-In-Law

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Author: Charity Norman
RRP: $29.99

The Son-In-Law is an emotional roller-coaster from the very first page, and you can tell that there are many different levels of this story that need to be explored before anything is going to be resolved. There is much more to the story than meets the eye and nothing is black and white.

Charity Norman has written this book from the perspectives of three major players in the narrative and thankfully for my concentration they are all written in the third person so through all three perspectives we are still looking in at the story rather than trying to jump in between three very different characters heads.

We have Joseph Scott who is quite a difficult character to get a concrete handle on, his thirteen year old daughter Scarlet and her maternal grandmother Hannah as the three perspectives but the primary players number much greater with Hannah’s husband Freddie and Scarlet’s brothers Theo and Ben. Possibly the most important character is Zoe, the complicated lady who ties them all together – Wife of Joseph, mother of Scarlet, Theo and Ben and the only child of Hannah and Freddie.

Tragedy struck and changed all of these lives in an instant one terrible night and it takes almost the entire book to completely understand what happened, and to realise that it really is a tragedy for all of those involved.

One terrible night Joseph Scott struck his wife, in front of his children, causing her death. He was a respected school teacher and the story dominated the news, exacerbating the pain for the family. Much of this we don’t learn until later as the story plays out and we learn more about the past as we move into the future.

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The book opens in the traumatic moments after the incident and then skips forward to the time Joseph is released. Joseph spends three years imprisoned for his actions and that tells me that there’s more to the story because that’s not very long, not nearly long enough according to some.

Joseph is a loving father whose life always revolved around his beloved family so it’s only natural that he wants to reconnect with his children, but is that what’s really best for the children after the last time they saw him?

Scarlet, Ben and Theo were taken in by their grandparents and have settled into a stable routine and are beginning to heal, after counselling and much adjustment. Understandably though, all are still trying to live with the massive hole in their lives left by the loss of Zoe. Ben was only a baby and now Hannah and Freddie are all he remembers.

The release of Joseph causes great upheaval, Ben becomes clingy again and both Theo and Scarlet start exhibiting behavioural issues. Hannah and Freddie try to protect them from a lot of the goings on between the adults because they don’t want them unsettled again and they are scared of what may happen if Joseph is successful in gaining access rights.

The story unfolds in both directions as we follow the stressful and tense legal battle between the Wildes and Joseph Scott as he tries to gain access to his children. The Wildes suffer immensely from the situation, afraid of many things things and unable to see past their pain at the loss of their daughter.

The pain of the Wildes, and the upheaval to the children makes it easy to want to agree with the Wildes and keep Joseph far away from all of them – until you see how very real his pain is and how terribly haunted by his actions. At every turn he does try to push for more, as part of the conditions of his release he is to keep his distance from the Wilde’s house but within weeks he is spotted at a park near the house waiting to catch a glimpse of the boys and not long after at Scarlet’s school. Does he have no respect for the wishes of the family, and the conditions of his release?

The children are adamantly on the side of their grandparents in that they want nothing to do with Josesph, they don’t want to see him, hear from him or have anything to do with him. He ruined everything and he’s still hurting their grandparents. But is anything ever really that simple?

Norman explores so many tricky situations in this novel that it is impossible to choose sides, to conclude who’s right and who’s wrong. There are so many elements that change the perspective the further we get into the story. It is clear from the outset that Joseph was deeply in love with Zoe and there was never any indication of violence in their past so how do we get to where things ended up?

Zoe was the light in the life of her loved ones, how do you move on from her loss? How do you keep going? How are you ever expected to forgive the one that snuffed her light?

These are very appropriate questions but they are hard to answer until you can get all of the pieces together to work out what happened and what led to such a tragedy.

Norman was sensitive to the issues of mental health, prisoners returning to productive society and the effects of custody issues on children.

I think through it all it was the children who affected me the most, they are stuck right in the middle of a war that seems to have no end, and no right answer. There seems to be someone hurting at every turn and they feel they are betraying the ones they love by moving on. It’s heartbreaking to see these children so torn, so unsure of what they should do to cause the least damage to their loved ones.

I loved The Son-In-Law for its ability to make me think and to look past the surface of the issues to discover all the elements that culminated in one tragic life changing moment. A fabulous offering from Charity Norman and one that cements my desire to be on the look out for her next book.

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