“Damage is only damage, after all, when it is observed.”
Dee is a middle-aged Scottish woman living and working in the University City of Oxford, England. For the past two decades she has been a nanny to various visiting professors and college staff. Her past is riven with a deep trauma that she has not shared with anyone. She suffers from insomnia. When, by chance, she is hired by the newly hired Master, she immediately bonds with her small and vulnerable charge, Felicity.
“The main problem with my line of work is that children come with parents, and parents come with opinions, thoughts, urges and impulses – most of them entirely misguided.”
Felicity lost her mother at the tender age of four years. Now she is eight years old and has a new stepmother who is expecting a baby. Largely ignored by her father and stepmother, grieving for her mother, bullied at school, she suffers from night terrors, sleepwalking, and selective muteism.
Linklater is a middle aged house historian who has been hired by Nick Law to research the history of the Masters Lodging, an ancient and gothic pile located on Magpie Lane, Oxford. Linklater is very odd and eccentric, and through various outings with Dee and Felicity, he becomes very fond of them both.
Nick and Mariah Law – a narcissistic couple who have little time for the tiny Felicity. Nick is busy with his duties as Master of the college, while his wife, the beautiful Danish Mariah, has her own business restoring vintage wallpapers.
“Their lack of engagement in Felicity’s life was staggering. They seemed less like a family than a couple, reluctantly caretaking an inconvenient child.”
When Felicity goes missing, the police question Dee at length. For she is the most likely person to know anything about Felicity’s whereabouts. The most likely ‘suspect’ because of her personal history and criminal record…
This novel had everything I require in an excellent read. A setting that evokes atmosphere in spades, a protagonist with a secretive past, and a dysfunctional family that seem to have a hidden agenda.
The Oxford University Master’s Lodging house was an ancient gothic pile with creepy vibes. A house steeped in history – it even had a priest’s hole.
The nanny, Dee, was an eccentric and enigmatic woman. The allusions to her past evoked an aura of mystery and earlier trauma. Her brilliant mathematical mind lent her personality a certain gravitas. While she seemed a quirky, aloof person, she seemed very loving toward her small charge Felicity.
Felicity herself was an extremely troubled little girl with whom you couldn’t help but have empathy for.
The plot was clever and expertly executed. It was a cut above the typical ‘missing child’ thriller. The ending was perfect – somewhat ambiguous, but perfectly fitting for the book.
This psychological novel kept me captivated throughout. I have added all of Lucy Atkins previous novels to my TBR. Highly recommended!
I purchased this novel in Kindle format some time ago. My decision to read and review it now coincided with the paperback publication this month by Quercus Books.
Original publication: Feb. 1, 2020 Paperback publication: July 8, 2021
ISBN: 9781784293833 – ISBN: 9781786485571 – ASIN: B085TR1GVB – 354 pages
Lucy Atkins is an award winning British author and journalist. She has written four novels, most recently the critically acclaimed MAGPIE LANE. Many of her books are published internationally and THE NIGHT VISITOR (2017) has been optioned for television.
Lucy teaches on the Creative Writing Masters degree at the University of Oxford.
She studied English at Oxford University and was a Fulbright Scholar to the USA for an M.A. in English and American literature. She has lived in Boston, Seattle and Philadelphia, and is now based in Oxford, with her family and her dog.