Author: Dawn Barker
Publisher: Hachette Australia
Read: March 05 - 08, 2013
An unforgettable novel that brings to life a new mother's worst fears.
Tony is worried. His wife, Anna, isn't coping with their newborn. Anna had wanted a child so badly and, when Jack was born, they were both so happy. They'd come home from the hospital a family. Was it really only six weeks ago?
But Anna hasn't been herself since. One moment she's crying, the next she seems almost too positive. It must be normal with a baby, Tony thought; she's just adjusting. He had been busy at work. It would sort itself out. But now Anna and Jack are missing. And Tony realises that something is really wrong...
What happens to this family will break your heart and leave you breathless.
Fractured is an insightful portrayal of mental illness and its devastating effects on a young Australian family.
After desperately trying for a baby for a long time, Anna and Tony finally welcome their firstborn son Jack into the world. But for Anna both the birth and the weeks following are not as she had expected. Jack is a fretful baby who wakes every two hours, and with Tony working long days Anna is soon in a state of total exhaustion. And though Tony is worried about his wife, he puts her growing lethargy, weight loss and mood swings down to adjusting to having a new baby in the house. It is not until Anna and Jack disappear one morning that Tony realises that something is very badly wrong ….
Barker, who is a psychiatrist, offers the reader insights into the devastating effects of postnatal depression, drawing on the background knowledge and experience of a health professional who has been exposed both to patients with the disease as well as the clinical environment. Her portrayal of Anna as she goes through various stages of trying to adjust to being a mother, and her gradual unravelling, is both touching and shocking. The story sends an important message to readers – that mental illness is a medical condition just like other diseases, such as cancer, and not the “fault” of the sufferer. Through Anna, whose actions may repel the reader, we get a glimpse into a world where logic and reason are no longer sufficient anchors to make people operate within the moral and ethical frameworks of humankind. Instead, the illness may compel sufferers to act in an irrational manner which is totally out of character for the person.
I thought that the scenes of Anna trying to come to terms with not only her ever growing fatigue and the demands of her newborn, but also her own feelings of powerlessness and estrangement from her baby were brilliantly described. Every new mother will identify to some extent to Anna’s emotional rollercoaster ride as she tries so very hard to be a good mother to her son. Offering Tony’s perspective highlights the differences in the new parenting experience and the adjustments required by the new parents.
Revealing most details of the novel’s central events early in the book perhaps gave too much away too soon, and I would have liked a bit more mystery to keep me truly engaged with all the characters. However, supporting the story with the perspectives of both Anna’s and Tony’s family members and friends added depth to the story and explored the effects of Anna’s illness on those closest to her, rippling out into the wider community. One aspect which could have been further explored was the public reaction to the events unfolding in the story, and its impact on family members – although the internal conflicts and divided loyalties were portrayed very well.
Barker has done an excellent job in exploring the tragic effects of postnatal depression, at a time in a woman’s life which is supposed to be the fulfilment of her womanhood. Written with compassion, understanding and sensitivity, this novel will touch your heart and sow the seeds for a better understanding of mental illness within the community. As other reviews have mentioned, this novel would offer many discussion points for bookclubs and further help to de-mystify mental illness.
Thank you to Hachette Australia and the Reading Room for providing me with a free copy of this novel. The views expressed in this review are strictly my own.
I read this novel as part of my 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge.
I would be happy to "share the joy" and pass my copy of this novel on to another reader for review - if you are interested please leave a comment below.