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3 July 2013

Review: 'The Son-in-Law' by Charity Norman (2013)

On a sharp winter's morning, a man turns his back on prison. Joseph Scott has served his term. He's lost almost everything: his career as a teacher, his wife, the future he'd envisaged. All he has left are his three children but he is not allowed anywhere near them. This is the story of Joseph, who killed his wife, Zoe. Of their three children who witnessed the event. Of Zoe's parents, Hannah and Frederick, who are bringing up the children and can't forgive or understand Joseph. They slowly adjust to life without Zoe, until the day Joseph is released from prison...

Thank to the lovely people at Allen & Unwin I received a review copy of Charity Norman’s new release, ‘The Son-in-Law.’ I hadn’t read anything by Charity Norman before, and I am not quite sure whether I would have picked up this novel myself. As followers of this blog will probably know by now, I am a sucker for romance and a happy ending, and those are not exactly the ingredients this novel would appear to offer at first sight. However, one of the most important things about reading is that you can relatively easily cross your personal borders and pick up a novel that might not initially be your cup of tea, but it might end up surprising you. And that is exactly what happened with this novel.

After spending several years behind prison walls, Joseph Scott is out in the wide world again. The only thing he cares about is seeing his three children, Scarlet, Theo and Ben, but this won’t be an easy task. Four years ago, Joseph killed his wife Zoe in a fit of rage, in front of their children. They now live with their grandparents, Hannah and Frederick, who have no intention of letting Joseph near his children ever again. When Joseph sees no other option but to take the case to court, Zoe’s torn family is forcefully reunited, bringing back all kinds of memories and emotions.

One of the absolute strengths of this novel is Charity Norman’s writing. After just a few chapters, I already felt myself being consumed by this story and I couldn’t get it out of my mind. The characters are incredibly well-written and realistic, just like the scene setting. I could imagine myself standing in the living room with them, which only made me feel even more drawn in by the novel. Norman especially managed to create a feeling of conflict: who of the characters do you support? There are two main different points of view, and I found myself switching between the two continually. As a reader you are really brought into the minds of these characters, and it also shows you everything might not be as straightforward as it might seem at first sight.

Even though Zoe has already died quite some time ago at the start of this novel, she takes on a central role in the story. She was a mother, daughter, and wife, and these three roles are explored in the form of her children, parents, and husband. I especially loved the three children, most specifically Scarlet; she is so clearly torn between two parties, and Norman describes this so incredibly well. Next to this, I also admired the relationship between Hannah and Frederick; after everything they’ve gone through, their love is still so strong. I don’t want to give too much away about what happens in this novel, but the last few chapters had me with tears streaming down my face, and that is something that doesn’t happen too often to me when I’m reading! ‘The Son-in-Law’ is an emotional and realistic novel that will keep you captivated from beginning to ending, and a tale that reminds you to not forget that there’s always two sides to every story.


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