‘Just What Kind of Mother Are You’ is Paula Daly’s first novel, though she’s bringing out a second this year and working on her third as we speak. Published last year and receiving positive reviews both here and stateside, the story promised to be ‘a cracking page turner’ (the Bookseller) and ‘fiendishly addictive as well as perceptive about guilt and social class’ (the Guardian).
The story is told by Lisa, a forty-something mum living in a small Lake District town. I was immediately drawn to Lisa – probably because there are some aspects of her life that I recognise – she’s a Mum of three, permanently knackered, a bit too skint for comfort, constantly chasing her tail to keep life ticking over for everyone around her. And then, within the first couple of chapters, she makes a mistake – a terrifyingly easy mistake – which leads to the disappearance of her close friend’s daughter.
Lisa’s guilt and anguish is well depicted and is easy to identify with as she continues to relate the story, and as she does so, we come to know some of the other main players in the book, and their shared histories – namely her husband Joe, the missing girl’s parents Kate and Guy, Kate’s sister Alexa, and brother-in-law Adam. Needless to say, all is not what it seems and the desire to get to the bottom of the apparent contradictions, and of course to find out what happened to the missing girl, does indeed make this novel a page turner.
Interspersed with Lisa’s narrative are chapters written in the third person describing the thoughts and actions of the detective who’s been assigned to the case, and infrequent but chilling descriptions of the behaviour of an unidentified male. The three strands of the story are cleverly woven together to keep the novel moving along at a good pace, and it’s certainly true to say that I was picking it up every spare minute to find out how it played out.
As promised by The Guardian’s review, the themes of social class and guilt were both explored, although not in any great depth; while the overriding message that the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence is of course true, I felt that perhaps this message was too simplistically portrayed. In addition the line between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ people was drawn very arbitrarily in the final pages. I did feel that an opportunity was missed here – just because someone is immensely dislikable does not make them any less of a victim; and in this case, I would certainly have liked to know more about Alexa and felt that this would have added something worthwhile to the narrative.
On the other hand, the character and life of DC Joanne Aspinall is given some prominence throughout the story, and while this did not detract from the experience of reading the novel, I was not really clear why. It did not seem to me that there was quite enough linkage between Joanne and the main characters to justify the time spent on her – in fact I find myself wondering if perhaps the author has plans for us to meet her again in a future story, like Jodi Picoult’s Jordan McAfee. I hope so – I think there’s an interesting character there waiting to come out.
I thoroughly enjoyed the story, though it’s probably not a novel I will return to a second time – I am not sure how much more there is to discover after reading it once through. However I have added Paula Daly’s second book, ‘Keep Your Friends Close’, to my Kindle wish list, and based on my experience of ‘Just What Kind of Mother Are You’, I fully expect to enjoy it.
On the whole, I would recommend ‘Just What Kind of Mother Are You’ to anyone who wants an engaging, fast and gripping read. If you’re a parent there are parts that will resonate all too well, but that isn’t a pre-requisite for enjoyment – there’s enough to keep you entertained even without the ‘it could happen to me’ fear factor. If you do give the book a try based on this review, I’d love to know your thoughts – as always, please do comment below or via the twittersphere!
**Disclosure – I received a free copy of this book from Mumsnet and Transworld Books, in exchange for writing a review. I have not been otherwise recompensed for this post, nor have I been asked to say anything specific in the review.**