THE MISTAKE - Wendy James

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

I still remember the profound sense of disquiet that WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? left me with, and Wendy James has done it again with THE MISTAKE.

There's something about Jodie Garrow that I suspect is going to trigger differing responses in readers. Personally I couldn't get past a very obvious sense of Stepford Wife syndrome. She's a socialite, immaculately made-up, coiffured, dressed to the part of the wealthy wife of a high profile husband. There's the perfect family - a boy, a girl, a modern house. She's a big fish in a very small pond - a metaphor that extends as the plot of the book expands and, in Jodie's eyes, she's increasingly surrounded by the sharks - media, friends, mother-in-law. Even the supportive, but ultimately unfaithful husband. There's obviously a lot wrong in Jodie's life and it seems that the revelation of the illegal adoption all those years ago has suddenly bought all that's bad to the surface.

It's also distinctly possible that Jodie is everything that's wrong in Jodie's life, and this author has done a particularly good job at confusing that possibility. Is Jodie the ultimate unreliable narrator, or is the media frenzy, the trial by public opinion, more what's going very very wrong in this woman's life? Why has she stepped back, wrapped herself in what seems oddly passive acceptance, why doesn't that quite stack up against the revelations of Jodie's background and her determination in other areas of her life? Add a philandering husband who does seems to be stepping up to help, a rebellious teenage daughter, and there are cracks in this perfect life that widen with every page.

The point of view moves around between Jodie, her husband Angus and sixteen-year-old daughter Hannah. The timeframe also changes between the present and 1986 when the missing baby was born. The main voice however is always Jodie. As everybody else reacts and deals with the circumstances, Jodie alone knows the full story of what happened to baby Else Mary. Yet somehow her story doesn't quite ring true - whether or not that's because the media hype is winning, or whether or not there is something wrong in what Jodie is saying is not all that easy to decide.  

It was hard not to be struck by the coincidence of finishing THE MISTAKE just as a Northern Territory coroner declared that a dingo did indeed take baby Azaria Chamberlain. Hard not to think of the hysterical media and public speculation that went on around that case, hard not to consider the mindless obsession with looks, clothes, demeanour.  

In THE MISTAKE, once again, James takes the reader into some very interesting territory. The book is definitely almost pitch perfect psychological thriller, and it's going to be very discomforting reading for some people. It's sneakily challenging, disconcerting, compelling, car crash fascinating, and probably one of the best fictional reminders I've had in a while that public and media opinion should never be mistaken for the justice system, regardless of the ultimate outcome.

Year of Publication

We all have secrets . . .

Jodie Garrow is a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks when she falls pregnant. Scared, alone and desperate to make something of her life, she adopts out the baby illegally – and tells nobody.

Twenty-five years on, Jodie has built a new life and a new family. But when a chance meeting brings the adoption to the notice of the authorities, Jodie becomes caught in a nationwide police investigation, and the centre of a media witch hunt.

What happened to Jodie's baby? And where is she now? The fallout from Jodie's past puts her whole family under the microscope, and her husband and daughter must re-examine everything they believed to be true.

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