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  • thought-provoking and insightful

    Little Disasters is the fourth novel by best-selling British author, Sarah Vaughan. Late one Friday night, senior paediatric registrar at London’s St Joseph’s Hospital, Liz Trenchard is called into the A&E to attend a ten-month-old baby girl. It turns out to be Betsey Curtis, the daughter of her friend of some ten years, Jess. After talking to Jess, she examines the child and finds an injury that, along with certain aspects of her friend’s behaviour, oblige Liz to involve Social Services, and therefore, the Police. While the idea of this mother of three, or her husband, harming their child seems inconceivable, when her consultant warns her not to allow her personal feelings to cloud her professional judgement, Liz realises she has no other choice: her duty of care is to the child. While suspicion falls on Jess, Liz finds herself, for her actions, in the firing line from the child’s father and the other couples with whom she and her husband formed close friendships as first-time parents. On top of this, Liz is under pressure from her mother, a woman for who she is the default next-of-kin, despite their difficult relationship. “During their childhood, “She could be physically abusive; neglected us; was sometimes cruel. We weren’t regularly battered, but we feared her, and we knew never to push things”, so Liz’s brother keeps his distance. But for Liz, the contact stirs some disturbing memories. Vaughan thoroughly examines the circumstances that might lead to the injury of a young child, and the likely aftermath. The story is told from three main perspectives; the timeline switches back and forth unambiguously in clearly marked chapters; it is very cleverly plotted. There is such a lot going on here. Vaughan touches on a myriad of topics, including loyalty to friends, the devastating effect of post-natal depression, maternal OCD and the fear of harming your child, the many forms of child abuse, and the pressure of societal expectations. Her portrayal of the mother in the grip of some of these is inspired: “People think you don’t have the time or headspace to feel alone with three energetic children, but there is little lonelier than being at home with a distraught baby and an unraveling mind”. Shame, guilt and fear are all sensitively rendered “She has always been so careful to hide the anxieties that nibble at the edges of her brain. But she can’t do that anymore. She has broken a self-imposed rule: left the calm, contained Jess behind and let the anarchic version leap out” This is a thought-provoking and insightful read. This unbiased review is from an uncorrected proof copy provided by NetGalley and Atria Books.

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