A Good Enough Mother

Bev Thomas

Published by Faber & Faber UK/Pam Dorman Books US 30 April 2019

336pp, paperback, £12.99

Reviewed by Alison Burns

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Any of us who has lost someone dear to us knows what it’s like to think that you see that person alive, in front of you: such is our longing for the dead or missing to return.  In the case of Dr Ruth Hartland, director of a trauma therapy unit, this experience takes her to personal and professional disaster.

Hartland’s son Tom has disappeared.  She has concealed this for nearly two years from all colleagues except her confidential supervisor.  She continues to be an effective therapist.  Then, one day, she mistakes a new client for her missing boy and, in her shock, makes a cardinal error.  Instead of asking someone else to treat him, she conceals the connection she has made and embarks on a course of treatment that becomes more hair-raising with each session.

Dan, the client, is angry, hostile, disturbed.  Hartland knows how she should help him but underestimates the effects of her lack of detachment.  Complicating matters further, she bumps into her son’s friend Julie and finds out that she has a grandson.  This new joy addles her judgement further and provides a hostage to fortune.

Author Bev Thomas has worked as a clinical psychologist and clearly knows whereof she speaks.  In her hands, Hartland’s treatment sessions are small masterclasses in the art and practice of therapy; and Hartland is portrayed convincingly as a practitioner who knows very well when she has crossed the line but cannot stop herself.  This should be enough to engender tension.  However, Hartland’s self-centredness drains some of the reader’s sympathy and therefore reduces the suspense.  Hartland’s own mother, an alcoholic, was not really ‘good enough’, but (or should I say ‘and’?) nor was she.  Even the climactic violence of this well-informed story about obsession reaches us at one remove, with the central character, somewhat unsatisfactorily, obstructing the view.

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