Although at odds with the précis provided on the back of the book to me THE OTHER CHILD is at heart the story of septuagenarian Fiona Barnes who has lived in a Yorkshire village for most of her life, first having been evacuated there from London as an 11 year old girl during World War II. Virtually all of the other main characters in this book have some connection to Fiona including close friend Chad Bennett and his daughter Gwen and Fiona’s adult granddaughter Leslie. The main drama occurs when Gwen and her new finance, Dave Tanner, are giving a small engagement party at the Bennett’s farm. Several of the guests but in particular Fiona, can see trouble ahead for the unworldly Gwen and the evening ends in a fight. The next day one of the party is found dead and there are similarities to the murder three months earlier of a young student.
I don’t mind a good bit of undemanding escapism but for choice I’d read a thriller or a comic caper to fill that slot than the sort of Gothic melodrama with thin veneer of crime novel that THE OTHER CHILD turned out to be. It meandered through the romantic (and unromantic) entanglements of the characters and while many readers would, I’m sure, find the intricacies of those entanglements interesting in their own right I was a bit bored while I waited for something to happen but I acknowledge that says more about my taste than the quality of the book. In addition to the present day scenario we learn about Fiona’s past through a series of documents that she had emailed to Chad, documenting their shared experiences during and following the war. It is here we learn of the other child whose fate might have repercussions in the present day but I thought this thread, which had the potential to be quite powerful, limped along as something of an afterthought for most of the story, only really coming into its own towards the end,
I’m not sure if it was a result of the translation or the fact that the author does not live in the setting of the novel (She is German) or was merely a stylistic choice but the portions of the book purporting to be Fiona’s accounting of her evacuation and subsequent events did not ring true. I realise all historical fiction is created from the author’s absorption of information from other sources but here the excerpts really felt like they were cobbled together from fairly superficial resources and I never once felt transported to Fiona’s bombed out London or idyllic Yorkshire farm. In fact although she was a central hook for the book I didn’t think Fiona was developed terribly well as a character at all, whereas some of the more minor players such as Leslie and even the unlikeable but interesting Dave Tanner seemed more fully formed and engaging to read about.
For me this would have been a better book with a hundred fewer pages but that is not an uncommon complaint of mine and otherwise it was a perfectly pleasant, though not terribly memorable, read. If you like your crime mixed with romance and history (I’m loathe to step into comparison territory but I thought it had some similarities to work by Kate Moreton) then I think you’ll enjoy THE OTHER CHILD.
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Not really anything to do with the quality or otherwise of the book but I found the character name Chad to be an odd choice for an English person born in the late 1920’s in rural Yorkshire. Is it just me or does that sound like a very American name?
THE OTHER CHILD was my book club’s selection for this month.
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My rating 3/5
Translator Stefan Tobler (from German)
Publisher Hachette [Original edition 2009, this translation 2012]
Length 410 pages
Book Series standalone.
Source I borrowed it from the library
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