The Son-in-Law was a fantastic read from start to finish and if this is an example of how good Charity Norman is as a writer, then I can’t wait to read her other books.
Joseph Scott gets out of prison after completing half of his six year sentence for the manslaughter of his wife, Zoe, and is determined to reconnect with his children. The three children, Scarlet, Theo and Ben have been living with their maternal grandparents who have been helping them deal with the trauma of witnessing their mother’s death. Joseph’s reappearance brings back a lot of painful memories for all concerned, and the children’s grandparents, Hannah and Freddie, are determined to keep Joseph away from his children.
The real genius of this book is that it makes you think about a situation from so many different angles, it is almost impossible to make a decision. When I first read the blurb, my immediate reaction was that Joseph should never be allowed to see his children again, but as the story unfolds, you realise things are not as cut and dry as they seem. Joseph was pushed to his limits and committed a terrible act born out of frustration and he will have to live with the guilt the rest of his life.
The story is narrated from three different people: Hannah, the grandmother; Scarlet, Joseph’s teenage daughter; and Joseph himself. The three different voices give us an insight into the point of view of all the people involved, with Hannah and Scarlet’s delivery being in the first person, while Joseph remains in the third. The different narratives allow the reader to gain a different perspective of the events leading up to the tragedy so we are not being given a biased view and it works exceptionally well.
As Joseph is given access, the children soon find themselves torn between their grandparents and their father, and the stress of the situation begins to take its toll on Scarlet who is desperately trying to keep everyone happy. Scarlet is at the age when her mother first began to show signs of her mental illness and there are times when Scarlet’s grandparents fear fate is repeating itself. However, Scarlet is simply under extreme emotional stress and it isn’t long before she starts to crack, forcing the adults in her life to re-examine their actions.
The court proceedings and the intervention of the family mediator is all handled excellently well and I thought Charity Norman had gone to great lengths to research this area, however it appears she has inside knowledge as she was a barrister who specialised in family law. Norman makes us feel sympathetic to all the characters involved and that is no mean feat considering what’s happened to them.
Interwoven into the main plot, is the tender story of Hannah’s love for her husband of forty years and his slow decline in health. Freddie is twelve years older than Hannah but his simple attempts to communicate after his stroke are very movingly portrayed. Hannah has to come to terms with the fact that as well as losing her daughter and possibly her grandchildren, the man she loves is slowly fading away.
The Son-in-Law is one of those books that makes you think from the outset and stays with you long after the final page.