Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards.

Borrowed from my local public library.

**** "Poignant"

From the inside cover: "On a winter night in 1964, Dr. David Henry is forced by a blizzard to deliver his own twins. His son, born first, is perfectly healthy. Yet when his daughter is born, he sees immediately that she has Down's syndrome. Rationalising it as a need to protect Norah, his wife, he makes a split-second decision that will alter all of their lives forever. He asks his nurse to take the baby away to an institution and never to reveal the secret. But Caroline, the nurse, cannot leave the infant. Instead, she disappears into anoter city to raise the child herself. So begins..."

To me, this is just the kind of thing I want when I choose a novel. First and foremost, it is a story; not barrelling along at the pace of a page-turning thriller, but inexorably moving forward, revealing at each juncture more about each character and their world. The story is at times heartbreaking, as we observe David and Norah Henry's marriage slowly disintegrate as they struggle along, raising their son Paul. It provides the perfect example how, seemingly suddenly, you can wake up one morning and wonder how on earth you came to be at the point in your life that you are, without realising all the little decisions that you made each day that got you there.

It is also inspiring, as you see Caroline find strength and determination that she never knew she had, as she works to open every door possible to her daughter, Phoebe, despite being a single mother in a strange town, bearing the worry that at any time her world could come crashing down.

Having been born in 1971, I found it interesting to watch the changing social background as the twins (a little older than me, but of the same generation) grew up. The expectation that children with Down's syndrome were better off in an institution, and certainly didn't participate in school or other activities with "normal" children, is so very far from our current ideas. Also, Norah's experience as a wealthy doctor's wife, and the expectations associated with that role, are very far from anything I've experienced.

All in all, a satisfying read, with tears and laughs and plenty of drama.

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