All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: The Marsh King’s Daughter by Karen Dionne

on June 13, 2017

The Marsh King’s Daughter
Karen Dionne
Hachette AUS
2017, 320p
Copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

‘I was born two years into my mother’s captivity. She was three weeks shy of seventeen. If I had known then what I do now, things would have been a lot different. I wouldn’t have adored my father.’

When notorious child abductor – known as the Marsh King – escapes from a maximum security prison, Helena immediately suspects that she and her two young daughters are in danger.

No one, not even her husband, knows the truth about Helena’s past: they don’t know that she was born into captivity, that she had no contact with the outside world before the age of twelve – or that her father raised her to be a killer.

And they don’t know that the Marsh King can survive and hunt in the wilderness better than anyone… except, perhaps his own daughter.

Seriously, with a blurb like that who could not read this book? There’s been so many accounts of real life kidnappings, where teenage girls or young women are taken and either don’t escape or aren’t discovered for years. I’ve read Jaycee Dugard’s novel as well as accounts about Natascha Kampusch and Elisabeth Fritzl. However I’ve read few fiction books tackling it – Room being the only other one that comes to mind right now, although this is quite a different story to that.

Helena didn’t even know that her life was unusual for the first decade or more. She was born 2 years after her father, a man in his 30s, kidnapped her 16 year old schoolgirl mother. They lived in a very remote cabin in an area in the far north of America, close to the border with Canada. Until she was 12, Helena had no idea that her father was a criminal. She idolised him growing up, admiring him for his knowledge and desperately seeking his approval. Her father taught her to hunt and fish, often by using cruel games, although Helena didn’t recognise them as such. She believed that he was making her strong, like him and that her mother was weak. Helena could see all too clearly the contempt her father had for her mother and it was soon a view she developed too.

Escaping at 12 with her 28 year old mother, Helena had a lot of adjustment to do and she details this quite openly. Now an adult, married with two children of her own, Helena hears on the radio that her father, who was captured two years after she and her mother escaped the cabin, has killed two prison guards and gone on the run. She knows that he won’t be found unless he wants to be and that she’s probably the only one who can track him. She makes arrangements to hopefully keep her children and husband safe and then she sets off in search of her father.

Helena’s narrative is a torn one – even as an adult, who is now able to recognise the heinous crimes her father committed and realise that his treatment of her and her mother growing up was abusive and terrible, she is still conflicted by her love for him. He is her father, he shaped her in many ways. Her formative years were completely dominated by him.

Helena’s struggle was really interesting because a lot of the focus during events like this in the past in real life, are on the girl/woman who was kidnapped and the ordeal she went through. But this book is different – Helena’s mother’s experiences are related only through the eyes of Helena with what she witnessed as a child and later what she speculates as she grows older and begins to understand a little of the what her mother must have experienced. Helena’s mother isn’t a part of the book really, it’s all about Helena herself and how as an adult, she struggles to come to terms with how wrong aspects of her childhood were because at the time, she embraced the learning experiences and the chance to be more like her father, to know the land, to provide for herself. They lived without electricity, without running water, in total isolation. She didn’t even see other people apart from her father and her mother for years and years. She thought that everybody lived the way they did. It would’ve taken a lot of courage to finally do what she did in order to help her and her mother escape because if she failed, her father would probably have killed her mother and also, she had to overcome the way she’d been raised – conditioned. To obey her father above all else, to respect his word/direction as law, to realise that he wasn’t all she had believed him to be. It’s something that Helena struggles with even as an adult – she thinks she can track him but she also has to be strong enough to stand against him…and it’s possible that a confrontation with him could end the death of one of them.

Helena is a fascinating character, completely honest in her thoughts and revelations, even when they’re not exactly palatable. She has lived a life different to everyone she knows and she takes great pains these days to hide who she is – even her own husband isn’t aware of who her father is. But despite the fact that she never talks about it, she clearly thinks about it a lot. She has not visited her father, despite the fact that he’s incarcerated not far from the house she lives in, but he seems to be on the periphery of her mind. When she hears of his escape, she seems to feel that she has to be the one to go after him, to perhaps confront him, maybe even get some answers for why he did what he did to her and her mother. He’s an expert at mind games though, and as much as Helena knows this, it was obvious she would truly struggle to assert herself against him, even now. She needed sufficient motivation.

I really enjoyed this. Loved Helena’s frank narration and the intricacies of the story, the way in which Helena was raised was rendered so well. The suspense built really nicely as well, as Helena tracked her father and attempted to be one step ahead of his every move but I do feel that it was Helena’s internal struggle that was the star of the story. Her back and forth over her father’s character, his actions, how it has shaped her even as an adult. It was a really well done portrayal of what it might be like for someone who had grown up in such a way and then been thrust into ‘regular’ life at 12 years of age.

I’ll definitely look for more of Karen Dionne’s books in the future. This is the first one I’ve read but I’d be keen to read more.

8/10

Book #101 of 2017

 

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