The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards | Book Review

The Memory Keeper's Daughter book cover

During the middle of an unprecedented snowstorm in 1964, Dr David Henry delivers his wife’s baby with the help of a nurse in his empty clinic. It turns out to be twins. The first baby is a perfect little boy. The second is a girl with Down’s Syndrome. Believing that he is doing the right thing for all involved, David hands the child off to the nurse and asks her to take it to an institution out of town. He tells his wife, Norah, that the baby girl died. The nurse, Caroline, can’t bear to leave the little girl in the cold, clinical institution for the rest of her life. Instead, she goes on the run, starts a new life and raises the child as her own.

I really loved the concept behind The Memory Keeper’s Daughter. It’s one that really pulls on the heartstrings and could play out in so many different ways. It was interesting to get inside David’s mind and understand his motivations for doing something which is so abhorrent – giving up a child and claiming it to be dead – and I did find myself sympathising for him at times. He carries his enormous secret with him his whole life, and it ends up driving a wedge between him and his wife, as well as Paul, the child he kept. Ultimately, this is the focus of the book – the breakdown of an entire family as a result of a long-hold secret. And I was a little disappointed in that.

The book moves between the perspectives of David, Norah, Caroline and Paul. It was Caroline’s story I was most interested in. She’s a strong, tenacious character, choosing to do right by a child that isn’t hers, and fighting for better opportunities for children with Down’s Syndrome. I wanted to see more of her struggles and successes. But her segments were far too few and far between – we merely see snapshots of her life as the little girl, Phoebe, grows up. Meanwhile, we go deep into the details of Norah and David’s lives, and there’s an awful lot of focus on events that are portrayed as being far more meaningful than they really are.

Edwards writes beautifully, with setting constructed in vivid detail at every step. However, I found myself skimming through lengthy descriptions to get to the meat of the story. I love pretty prose, but I’d much rather have a story with a juicy plot and compelling twists and turns. There were so many opportunities for David’s secret to be almost revealed, which would have built tension and made for a far more gripping plot. Instead, I felt like the majority of the book was mere backstory for the big reveal at the end. And that big reveal wasn’t even given the justice is deserved – it felt too rushed, too simple.

Another bugbear was that Phoebe wasn’t given a true voice. We delved into Paul’s perspective during several chapters, so why not Phoebe’s too, particularly since she is the catalyst for the entire story. Instead, we saw her mainly through the eyes of Caroline, which left her somewhat one-dimensional and stereotypical. She was likeable, of course, but I wanted to really get to know her and I was left disappointed.

So… it’s a mixed review with this one. It had lots of potential, but it wasn’t quite to my taste.

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