What Lies Beneath Us, Kirsty Ferguson

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

Kirsty Ferguson's WHAT LIES BENEATH US is a story in two parts. On the one hand you have Jessica the mother, with a 10 year old son she almost obsessively adores, a husband she loves, and a good life in the outer suburbs of Melbourne. Jessica had problems bonding with Jack when he was first born, but nothing compared to the reaction she has to the birth of her second son. A pregnancy she didn't want, a baby she cannot bring herself to call by name, she does the basics of physical care, but feels no love or attachment for, and rapidly comes to resent and dislike baby Jason. A sketchy diagnosis of postpartum depression does absolutely nothing to relieve the pressure-keg that the family has become, with Jessica's judgemental mother stirring the pot, her husband unable (or is it unwilling) to comprehend, and her older son struggling with his father's over-compensation with the new baby.

On the other hand you have Jessica the suspected murderer, after the discovery of baby Jason's body. His father away for the weekend, and Jessica stuck at home after a drunk and maudlin night, wakes on Sunday morning to a dead baby and no signs of what caused the death. Jessica doesn't think she killed the baby, but she's also not that sure, although Geoff's reaction is extreme and bitter, and he's convinced. What he doesn't know is his own alibi is looking a bit flaky, and there's another potential explanation that Jessica has to deal with. To complicate things further Jason's death is initially assumed murder, then it looks like a SIDS death, then back to murder, all the while with Jessica as the main suspect, and the two investigating cops with their own individual conclusions. The more they dig, the less clear events over that weekend become. 

Ferguson has crafted an excellent portrayal of this family, from the sense of confusion, and guilt in Jessica, the anger and resentment of her husband Geoff, and her mother's quietly delivered judgement. As she's building that phase of the novel it's increasingly obvious that something's going to happen, and sadly you kind of know that things aren't going to end well for Jessica or her new baby. What happens, when and how the wheels fall off everybody's lives is delivered elegantly, dodging the overt emotional manipulation card by turning just about everybody - Jessica, Geoff, Jack, Jessica's mother and even the investigating cops into good and evil, black and white, right and wrong simultaneously. The reader is never given anybody to constantly believe in, or to trust and a lot of possible scenarios that explain baby Jason's death.  

The resolution, once it all falls into place is perhaps not the strongest storyline in the entire novel, but to be honest, by that stage for this reader at least, it had become more of a powerful examination of the awful outcomes that undiagnosed and untreated mental illness create, and a salient lesson in the sheer bastardry of faux perfection and the pressure of external expectations. 

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Jessica James had the perfect life. She had a good job, supportive friends, and her husband Geoff and her son Jack both adored her. Everything changed the moment she found out she was having another child. 

Now she’s a stay at home mum, they have barely enough money coming in, Jack is a troubled ten-year-old and she feels there’s an insurmountable divide between her and her husband. Worse still, her feelings towards her youngest son are just wrong. Does her recent diagnosis of postpartum depression explain these feelings or is something more sinister going on? 

The unthinkable occurs when baby Jason is found dead in his cot. At the time of his death, Geoff is away on a camping trip. Now Jessica finds herself accused of murder and is vilified by all those who once claimed to love her. As the evidence mounts against her, Jessica must come to terms with the fact that she may well have had something to do with her baby’s death. 

When a second tragedy rocks the James family, Jessica’s world quickly unravels, and she spirals into darkness. Meanwhile, Victorian Detectives Hunter and Cooper investigate the infant’s homicide but are left with more questions than answers. 

By the time they get to the bottom of this mystery, will there be anyone left of the James family to save? 

Review What Lies Beneath Us, Kirsty Ferguson
Karen Chisholm
Thursday, February 21, 2019
Blog #amreading What Lies Beneath Us, Kirsty Ferguson
Karen Chisholm
Tuesday, February 12, 2019

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