Author: Jane Shemilt
Published: July 29th 2015
Publisher: Penguin Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Rating: 3.5 stars
Jenny is a successful family doctor, the mother of three great teenagers, married to a celebrated neurosurgeon.
But when her youngest child, fifteen-year-old Naomi, doesn’t come home after her school play, Jenny’s seemingly ideal life begins to crumble. The authorities launch a nationwide search with no success. Naomi has vanished, and her family is broken.
As the months pass, the worst-case scenarios—kidnapping, murder—seem less plausible. The trail has gone cold. Yet for a desperate Jenny, the search has barely begun. More than a year after her daughter’s disappearance, she’s still digging for answers—and what she finds disturbs her. Everyone she’s trusted, everyone she thought she knew, has been keeping secrets, especially Naomi. Piecing together the traces her daughter left behind, Jenny discovers a very different Naomi from the girl she thought she’d raised.
Jane Shemilt’s debut novel Daughter has been billed as a thriller about a teenage girl’s disappearance. I would have to say this book is best described as a family drama, with a measured dose of suspense, centered around fifteen year old Naomi Malcolm’s disappearance. Daughter is also a thought provoking read, raising questions around the concept of whether or not you truly know you loved ones.
The bulk of Daughter is told from the perspective of Jenny Malcolm, the mother of the missing young girl Naomi. The Malcolm’s are a middle class family, leading comfortable lives, headed by two very successful doctors. Jenny and Ted are passionate and hardworking in their careers, leaving their three children, twins Ed and Theo and daughter Naomi to their own devices. This is their downfall, as one night, their beloved and innocent daughter Naomi fails to come home after a play rehearsal. The narrative shifts back and forth, between the days leading up to Naomi’s disappearance, through to the time of the disappearance and a year or so later. Jenny’s relentless quest to never give up on finding her daughter, stemmed both love and guilt, leads her to a dramatic conclusion. This culminates into a bed of secrets, lies and betrayals that are revealed, coming from Naomi, as well as her husband and twin sons.
I have heard good things about this debut novel. Daughter was also a recommended read through the Richard and Judy book club, a site I follow closely, despite living in Australia. I was excited to read this novel, but at the same time, I had that horrible feeling at the pit of my stomach as I read the opening pages. I do find stories that focus on cases of missing teenage girls never seem to end well. Added to this was my own angst that as a mother of two children, a missing child of any age is literally any parent’s worst nightmare. Shemilt takes this terrible situation and builds a narrative that is both unexpected and climatic.
Daughter is a book that surprised me in a number of ways. Firstly, I was expecting a fast paced thriller, focussing on the daughter of the story. Rather, Daughter is more about the mother in the story, Jenny’s journey. Daughter is a slow reveal style mystery novel that focuses on a mother’s critical examination of her choices, parenting and perception of her children. Daughter also rips apart the construct of a seemingly perfect looking family on the outset, exposing an interior filled with lies, betrayals and bad choices. I know as parents, we tend to view our children as the apple of our eyes but when this notion is turned on its head, as Jenny discovers through Naomi’s disappearance, it is unsettling. Shemilt does a very good job as a debut novelist of getting deep inside a parent’s mind experiencing the guilt over the loss of a child. It is not an easy situation to transfer on page but Shemilt succeeds in this area.
Daughter is a well plotted novel. The information pertaining to Naomi disappearance, her associations with various family and friends is carefully revealed by Shemilt. The structure of the novel is told in flashback style. I did have a problem with the split narrative style and multiple time frames, at times the shifts did not seem completely smooth and I found it hard to keep up. I was forced to re-read the book at points, just to make sure I knew where I was time wise in the story and that I didn’t miss anything. When I reached the conclusion, it really floored me. I did not expect it all. The ending seemed to raise even more questions about the characters, events and choices made in the novel but I came away feeling ok about this once I left the book. However, a word of warning, if you do not like clear cut endings, this book may frustrate you!
Much more than a simple case of a teen girl’s disappearance, Daughter is an introspective book on understanding your loved ones at a time of crisis. I would recommend this solid debut novel if you enjoy mystery based books, revolving around family.