The Trophy Child – Paula Daly

“Karen Bloom is not the coddling mother type. She believes in raising her children for success. Some in the neighbourhood call her assertive, others say she’s driven, but in gossiping circles she’s known as: the tiger mother. Karen believes that tough discipline is the true art of parenting and that achievement leads to ultimate happiness. She expects her husband and her children to perform at 200 percent—no matter the cost. But in an unending quest for excellence, her seemingly flawless family start to rebel against her.

Her husband Noel is a handsome doctor with a proclivity for alcohol and women. Their prodigy daughter, Bronte, is excelling at school, music lessons, dance classes, and yet she longs to run away. Verity, Noel’s teenage daughter from his first marriage, is starting to display aggressive behaviour. And Karen’s son from a previous relationship falls deeper into drug use. When tragedy strikes the Blooms, Karen’s carefully constructed facade begins to fall apart—and once the deadly cracks appear, they are impossible to stop.”

Both Karen and Noel are on their second marriage.  They both have a child each from their previous marriages as well as Bronte, the trophy child.  Bronte has a gruelling regime, when she is not at school she is having music lessons, dance lessons, extra-curricular tutoring, whatever it takes to make sure Bronte excels in everything she does.  Karen is what’s known as a “Tiger Mum” or to put it more simply, a “Pushy Parent”.  Bronte is pushed way further than any other 10-year-old should be as Karen lives out her ambitions through her daughter.  Despite Karen’s dedication to preserving a carefully constructed illusion of a perfect family, things are beginning to fall apart.  When Bronte goes missing Karen’s levels of controlling behaviour reach stratospheric heights and their perfectly poised family crumbles down around her.

This is Paula Daly’s fourth novel, and despite the fact I have two other books of hers sitting on my kindle, this is the first I’ve actually read.  The story starts slowly and stays at that pace.  This is more of a slow burner than a fast paced thriller.   The characterisation was the books strongest point, even more so than the plot.  I hated Karen within her introductory lines.  Even the way she dressed managed to get my back up, so immaculately groomed, more like a prize show horse than a woman.  Husband Noel the GP was such a weak-willed character, at points I found it hard to understand why he simply sat in the sidelines and let domineering Karen away with her behaviour.  I suspect that after 10 years of Karen, Noel had been simply worn down to a shadow of his former self.  My favourite character was Verity, Noel’s daughter from his first marriage, she had an older head on her young shoulders, and at times seemed like the only one with any sense.

I find the title and blurb a little bit misleading, as the mother / daughter dynamic is only one of the features.  This novel is a family drama with a darker undercurrent running through it; abuse, betrayal, rivalry, secrets and lies.  Paula Daly has thrown in a few red herrings along the way making the ending a surprise albeit a bit on the unbelievable side.   The dark setting of the Lake District really added a creepy feel to the novel as you didn’t know who was out there, hiding in the woods.

If you enjoy mysteries surrounding dysfunctional families then I think you will find this an enjoyable read.  Overall rating three stars.  Thanks to the author, Grove Press and NetGalley for the advanced reader copy.

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