Published in the Sunday Times
Gail Schimmel (Pan Macmillan)
I feel lucky to have known about this book right from the get-go. I was in #writersgym with Gail Schimmel. #Writersgym was not complicated, we would simply check in with each other on Twitter on Sunday night to see how many words we had written.
I recently chatted to Schimmel and we were discussing genres and whether her book should be classified as a psychological thriller. “It’s only a tiny bit thrilling,” was her response. Now that I have read The Park I would have to disagree, as I found it very thrilling indeed, and a fine example of domestic suspense. Schimmel says that it’s “griplit”. Some authors are not OK with this term but Schimmel says she has no pretensions to writing great literature. What she’s after is a compelling story, which this book certainly is.
It’s not so much a whodunnit as a why-did-she-do-it? “Don’t trust her!” I kept yelling at the protagonist, Rebecca (mostly in my head) as she made friends with other moms, Lilith and Rose, in the park. Rebecca is a new mom to little Amy whom she adopted after enduring gruelling infertility treatment. Single-mom Lilith leans on Rebecca for support (I wanted to sit Rebecca down with a bottle of wine and give her a talk about boundaries) and this makes the flamboyant Rose feel left out and she reacts accordingly. Both Lilith and Rose have secrets and as the book unfolds, we find out what they are.
Schimmel’s wry sense of humour shines through in Rose’s dialogue. Bits of it had me laughing out loud and thinking, “I know this woman!”
I loved this bit about choosing schools: “She spent the next 15 minutes telling us why the school she’d chosen was better, but that we’d never get in at such a late date, but that she was sure our school would be very nice. Rose, I was starting to realise, paid a lot of lip service to non-competitive mothering, but had areas where she was as bad as the next person. I gave an internal shrug, supposing that we all have our issues.
“Rose ended her monologue with the statement, ‘Well, I’m sure it’ll be fine for your girls,’ with just the slightest emphasis on the word ‘your’.”
Her characters feel so wonderfully familiar, as do the settings. As I got deeper into the book I kept visualising the park down the road from my house and remembering the times I took my children there when they were small; it also reminded me of the awful anxiety one experiences as a first-time mother. It’s the sense of unease that Schimmel creates during the book that makes it such a compulsive read. Thank you for a great book and hurry up with the next.
Follow Pamela Power @pampower