All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Mistake – Wendy James

on March 24, 2012

The Mistake
Wendy James
Penguin AU
2012, 280p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Jodie lives a very comfortable life. Married to her childhood sweetheart Angus with two children, she is a well-preserved woman in her 40s with a lovely home, new car and a very good social standing. She helps out with local events and has an active social life and Angus, a lawyer, is thinking of running for mayor. Jodie’s carefully-cultivated life is about to come crashing down all around her when her teenage daughter Hannah breaks a leg on a school trip to Sydney and is inadvertently sent to the one hospital that Jodie never, ever wanted to set foot into again.

Twenty-five years ago Jodie was a scared and pregnant teenager and Angus was on a year long working stint in London. She chose a small hospital far away from where she lived, where the likelihood of running into anyone she knew would be non-existent and gave birth, choosing to put the baby up for adoption. This was quietly -and illegally- arranged by the Matron and Jodie received a small compensation for ‘recovery’ purposes. She’s devoted little time to thinking about that baby since, until one of the nurses notices that Hannah has the same medical condition (webbed toes) as the baby girl Jodie gave birth to all those years ago. A quiet inquiry in case Jodie wanted to reconnect leads the nurse to discover no records of the child exist and she is forced to report it to the authorities.

Jodie now finds herself at the centre of a scandal. Unless they can track down the child – who would now be a woman of 24 – then things could get very serious for Jodie. Without someone coming forward to say they are that child, or that they adopted that baby, then there’s no proof that that the child didn’t meet with foul play, even at the hands of her own mother possibly. Jodie finds herself slowly ostracised from her  peer and social groups as they attempt to run a pre-emptive strike on the investigation, doing several  carefully constructed media interviews and placing ads requesting information. Before long it’s open season in the media for anyone to say what they like about Jodie and speculate on what may have happened to that little baby so long ago. Nothing is off limits and her background is examined, her reputation cut to shreds and her family harrassed and followed. She is spat on in the streets of her small town where she was once so well liked and finds that her friends fall by the wayside, not even interested in what she might have to say.

As the search for the missing child intensifies, the pressure and strain on all of the family members is taking its toll. It’s just a matter of who is going to crack first.

The Mistake is set in what seems to me,  a well known town in NSW with the name loosely changed to Arding. A lot of the details remain the same (boarding schools, local university, hippy population etc). Jodie grew up in a town slightly out of Arding, in a poor family. She scored a scholarship to one of the better schools in Arding and was determined to use that as a way to escape her disadvantaged roots. Angus, in contrast, was part of a wealthy Arding family, well connected and well entrenched in the ‘old boys’ network of the male boarding school. Angus’s mother disapproved and that was enough for Angus to be firmly interested in Jodie. They married young and are both relatively happy, even though they’ve had their issues over the years. Angus supports Jodie when the news comes out, at great personal cost as he has to pull out of the mayoral race.

Where I believe this book excels is its portrayal of the media. At first Jodie and Angus are advised to make a plea for information before the media can dig up a story on their own, but it doesn’t take long before the tide turns and there are editorials, letters to the editor, web comments and sensational headlines. Jodie becomes a recluse after the town starts to alienate her, sitting at the computer clicking through news sites, blogs and comments, reading opinions of people who have never met her and are putting out there whatever they want. It’s a great showcase of how, armed with little information and a big opinion, anyone can get online or write a letter to the editor and say basically, whatever they want with no facts to back it up. Jodie is not personable, doesn’t strike the population as desperate or upset enough which is all the ammunition they need to tear her down as a murderer and worse. Jodie becomes obsessed with reading the things people are saying about her and it’s something I can definitely sympathize with. I think the temptation would be overwhelming, impossible to resist. The articles and opinions printed about Jodie are so realistic (given it’s happened before in Australian society and will no doubt happen again. The book even references numerous times, Lindy Chamberlain who was jailed for the murder of her young daughter Azaria before being exonerated and compensated). It’s such a slow building of the tide turning too, with snippets of newspaper articles and copies of the plea Jodie and Angus’s lawyer places before slipping in editorials, letters from the public and then Jodie finding the blogs. Jodie’s mother even goes on a current affairs show, lambasting her daughter and painting herself in an overly-flattering light.

What I really admired about this book though, apart from the well constructed story, the faultless pacing and the depth of the characters was the fact that it carefully, gently, makes you think that you know what has happened before it cuts you off at the knees. It’s hands down one of the best endings I’ve read in a book, possibly ever. It packs a huge emotional punch – the last line was running through my head for a long time after I finished the book. In fact that was a week ago now and I am still thinking about it constantly. Amazing.

A fabulous read – hard to “love” given the subject matter but well written and very powerful.


Book #47 of 2012

The Mistake counts towards my Australian Women Writers Challenge 2012. It’s the 12th novel read and reviewed for the challenge so far.

8 responses to “The Mistake – Wendy James

  1. Great review! Sounds like a book I’d like to check out. You are an amazingly prolific reader! How do you find the time?

    • It’s a really interesting story, I hope you do get a chance to read it Denise. Hmm.. I’m a really bad housekeeper! Haha, I read whenever I can fit it in basically – my husband works nights a lot of the time and once I get the kids off to bed at 7.30-8, I can fit in a few hours!

  2. shelleyrae @ Book'd Out says:

    I am glad you enjoyed it so much Bree!

  3. Hi Bree, Thanks for your review.

    I loved this book, too. I’d already been alerted to James’ portrayal of the media. What surprised me was her portrayal of class: sympathetic, insightful and complex. I was surprised that it wasn’t listed among the Davitt Awards, but perhaps it will be next year?

  4. […] Wendy – The Mistake (Penguin/Michael Joseph) Lizzy, Bree @AllTheBooksICanRead, Brenda, Bernadetteinoz, Shelleyrae @ Book’d Out, Angela […]

  5. […] Bree: “What I really admired about this book though, apart from the well constructed story, the faultless pacing and the depth of the characters was the fact that it carefully, gently, makes you think that you know what has happened before it cuts you off at the knees.” […]

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