2015, 363 p.
In her book This House of Grief , Helen Garner wrote of her sinking feeling on hearing of the death of the Farquarharson children on Fathers Day- “Oh Lord, let this be an accident”. For right or wrong, hearing of the death of children at what might possibly be their father’s hand often provokes an almost immediate suspicion of his guilt- “not again”. However a child’s death at possibly their mother’s hand evokes incredulity- “how could she?” The young (or even older) woman who has denied her pregnancy and has reality crashing down on her with the birth of the child- understandable. A deliberate, extended series of deaths like Katherine Folbigg has been accused of- less so. Ah, we all judge. None of us really knows.
Natalie King, the protagonist of Medea’s Curse knows, though. Or at least, she is required, professionally, as a forensic psychiatrist, to withhold judgment in her special expertise with mothers who have killed their children. But she’s human, and she can’t completely. She clashes with Professor Wadhwa, who is convinced that a woman who has had several children die under mysterious circumstances is suffering from Dissociative Identity Disorder (multiple personalities): Natalie is less sure. In a separate case, she has identified strongly – too strongly- with Amber, a woman jailed for murdering her child who, Natalie suspects, has been unjustly punished for a crime committed by her husband. Meanwhile, Amber’s husband is linked with another possible crime involving another child.
Then there’s Natalie herself. She suffers from bi-polar disorder and flirts with abandoning her medication. She obviously has a complex family back-story herself that will no doubt be explored in future books in the series mooted on the back cover. She rides a motorcycle: she enjoys sex but not the mess of relationships. And she’s being stalked: or at least, she thinks she’s being stalked.
As you can see, there’s a lot going on here. Too much? Possibly, for this reader who leans toward Dr Blake and Midsomer Murders in her crime tastes, and is often known to state “Well, I have NO IDEA what THAT was about!” at the end of a Friday night crime series on television. Nonetheless, I was able to follow the various threads, and found myself picking up the book for “just 10 minutes reading” to see what happened next.
Anne Buist, the author, is the Chair of Women’s Mental Health at the University of Melbourne, and is a specialist in perinatal psychiatry. She obviously knows her stuff (although she is at pains to stress that she has not used her patients in this book). At times the book was a little too technical, although having her supervision sessions with another psychiatrist, Declan, (an established feature of psychiatric practice) was a good narrative device for explaining things to the reader. As a Melburnian, I enjoyed its local setting.
So, given that this is not normally a genre that I’d read, and given my difficulty with following multiple plot lines, I enjoyed this book. It was a rather frenetic read though, and I was happy to turn to something quieter afterwards!
I have included this as part of the Australian Women Writers Challenge