Christine Strelan - Between the Covers
Fig Tree 2008
A young girl called Samantha is found dead in her family home. Her parents have built a wooden cage in which they have left her to starve to death. The discovery of her body causes a national scandal in England, and disturbs the residents of the upper middle class street where she lived. The story of Monster Love is told by multiple narrators who all have very different perspectives on Samanthas death. Theres the nosy neighbour, the policeman who finds her, the social worker, court officials, jail inmates, and various members of her extended family. These provide the real guts of the story, as we learn of her parents backgrounds. Sherilyn and Brendan are both fiercely ambitious yuppies and control freaks, utterly immersed in their narcissistic love for each other. Sherilyns unplanned pregnancy rocks their upwardly mobile lives, and they see the child as a threat to their self-contained relationship. The pregnancy is detected too late for an abortion, but I did wonder why they didnt just give the unwanted child up for adoption, rather than neglecting and murdering her. As they take turns at the narrative, we discover the abuse and trauma in their own family backgrounds. In fact, the novel is one big meditation on the connections between parents and children, both positive and negative.
The multiple viewpoints is a great structural idea, and works best during the first half of the novel. Topolski creates believable voices for her characters, even the monstrous Brendan and Sherilyn. However, towards the ending, the book succumbs to sensationalism, easy shocks and predictable outcomes. Some of the descriptions of child abuse are told in the perpetrators unrepentant voices, and I found them extremely distasteful.
At her best, Topolski is an accessible storyteller, and succeeds in giving all her characters distinctive speech and perception. Monster Love is packed with stories about the intense, ungovernable experience that is parenthood. For every damaged, abusive adult in the book, theres another whose love for their children is limitless.
Books reviewed are available at the Book Warehouse in Keen Street, Lismore, and at Lismore Square.