In a windowless shack in the woods, the lives of Lena and her two children, Hannah and Jonathan, are controlled in every aspect by their anonymous captor, from study times to bathroom visits. When Lena eventually manages to escape, the authorities initially believe she could be a girl called Lena Beck who disappeared near Munich 13 years previously. However, when Matthias Beck, the father of the missing girl, realises that this Lena is not his daughter, things take an even more sinister turn.
Translated from the original German by Jamie Bulloch, the story is told from the points of view of multiple characters, and the passages written from Hannah’s perspective are particularly well done: you feel sympathy for her but are also scared as to what this child might be capable of, and even though she has experienced immense mental trauma, at times she seems the most stable, the most together.
By contrast, some of Matthias’s behaviour can seem a bit far-fetched. Of course people do strange things in emotional situations, yet some of his actions simply don’t add up and feel more like plot devices than rational human behaviour. There are also moments when it feels as if the author might have had one eye on a TV adaptation, as when the villain spends precious time explaining his actions in a situation when time is really not on his side.
Dear Child is mesmerising and addictive all the same, and with each turn of the page you are gripped by a new twist or revelation. Hausmann does well to keep her cards close to her chest and keeps the reader guessing for almost the entirety of the book.
Dear Child, by Romy Hausmann, Quercus, £12.99
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