Jim and Cath – married for almost thirty years, they are in their late fifties. They are the parents of twin daughters. One of their twins died when she was only five years old. The other, their beloved Emma, has left home. For over a year now, they don’t know where she is, or how she is… or even IF she is still alive.
Cath is floundering without Emma. She retires from her job as a schoolteacher and tries to distract herself by baking, gardening, and becoming overly involved with the lives of her young tenants. Jim, too, is floundering with their new life without Emma. Distraught, and not knowing how to lay his soul bare to his beloved wife Cath, he seeks solace elsewhere.
“Sometimes sadness – heartbreak even – sometimes it gives you a greater capacity for happiness in the end. But it can take a long time.”
Nick and Lara – a young couple in their twenties who rent an end-of-terrace house from Jim and Cath. They now commute from Surrey to their jobs in London. Very much in love, they seem to have the perfect marriage. Inadvertently, Cath contributes to an event that puts their relationship in jeopardy.
Dido – a middle-aged woman with whom Jim has an affair.
Emma – aged nineteen, is living at Larkmore, a woman’s sanctuary. She helps with the housework and looking after the children who live there. Just a few miles from her home with Jim and Cath, she feels as though she is on another planet – so much removed from her former life is she.
Then, an accidental meeting with her father in a nearby town turns everything on its head…
“…the most painful things aren’t those you can’t put right, but those you can.”
This is a story about average, everyday, normal people. In as much as anyone is average and normal. These people are harboring secrets, secrets that impact others, secrets that impact their own emotional happiness, and secrets that can destroy their lives.
The characters are well developed and the settings are described with eloquence. The narrative is somewhat slow moving, yet I was engrossed in what was taking place. Parts of the writing almost took on a philosophical slant, making you think.
“…if she could turn the clock back – if she could start over – would she choose again the life she’s had, or pick a different one?”
The title could refer to Emma’s twin sister Rose. Emma always felt as though Rose’s spirit was still with her – a sort of shadow. Or, alternatively it could refer to another aspect of the story which I won’t divulge as it might ruin the reading experience for you. I refuse to include spoilers in my reviews.
“The Shadow Child” is a novel about imperfect people, striving to cope with their lives the only way they know how – trying to cope with everything life throws at them. Their actions are portrayed with empathy and tenderness. The novel explores the themes of grief, loss, betrayal, hope, despair, and love. Mostly though, it tells of how we, as humans, thrive best when we are needed.
Whether you call it literary fiction or women’s fiction is up to you, but I know it is quality fiction and I will be seeking out more work by this author.
Hardcover ISBN: 9781529136043 – Paperback ISBN: 9781529157321 – 512 pages
Rachel Hancox read Medicine and Social and Political Science at Cambridge, qualified as a doctor three months after getting married, and has juggled her family, her career and a passion for writing ever since. She worked in Pediatrics and Public Health for twenty years, writing short stories alongside NHS policy reports, and drafting novels during successive bouts of maternity leave. Rachel loves singing, cooking, gardening and pottery, and has five children, three dogs and a cat. As someone once said, she thrives on chaos.
Rachel sings in the Bach Choir, and divides her spare time between cooking, gardening, pottery and knitting. She lives in Oxford with her husband and youngest children, three dogs and a cat.
Connect with Rachel Hancox via Facebook.