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4 October 2013

Review: 'I Came to Say Goodbye' by Caroline Overington (2013)

It was four o'clock in the morning.

A young woman pushed through the hospital doors.

Staff would later say they thought the woman was a new mother, returning to her child - and in a way, she was.

She walked into the nursery, where a baby girl lay sleeping. The infant didn't wake when the woman placed her gently in the shopping bag she had brought with her. There is CCTV footage of what happened next, and most Australians would have seen it, either on the internet or the news.

The woman walked out to the car park, towards an old Corolla. For a moment, she held the child gently against her breast and, with her eyes closed, she smelled her.
She then clipped the infant into the car, got in and drove off.

That is where the footage ends.

It isn't where the story ends, however.
It's not even where the story starts.

I think I am not the only one who was immediately taken in by the blurb of Caroline Overington's latest release, 'I Came to Say Goodbye' (admit it, you must have been at least a little bit intrigued, right?). The novel was published in the UK on the 29th of August 2013 and I was lucky enough to receive a review copy, thanks to the amazing people at Arrow. I didn't really know what to expect from the novel at first, because I hadn't read anything by Caroline Overington before, and the blurb is definitely gripping, but doesn't give too much about the plot away. So, I just started reading, and before I knew it I was completely taken in by the story inside and couldn't put the book down until I had finished it!

Med Atley is a single father living in Australia in the 1970's, trying to raise his three children on his own, after his wife suddenly left him, never to return. His daughter Kat and son Blue are already teenagers and living their own lives, but toddler Donna-Faye, nicknamed Fat, is still dependent on her dad. Years later, and also where the reader meets Med for the first time, he is 60 years old and writing down his life story, which ultimately leads to the event that is at the core of this novel, the abduction of a small child from a hospital. The main question: how did we get there and what exactly happened? 

As soon as I started reading the first pages of this book, I got lost in the story and only managed to get out as soon as I finished it. 'I Came to Say Goodbye' is told from the perspective of 60-year old Australian Med, a character to which I warmed straight away. There's something about his voice that immediately spoke to me, and I just wanted to keep on reading to find out about everything he had to say. All the characters in the novel felt extremely real (I personally really enjoyed reading the parts told from Kat Atley's perspective), and Caroline Overington manages to capture topics like grief and family ties perfectly.

I don't want to give too much away about the plotline, because it would definitely spoil the reading process and that would be a real shame for those of you who plan on reading this book. I really enjoyed the way in which the novel was written, namely like a letter, and from different perspectives, but all third parties, instead of the main character whom it all evolves around. As soon as you discover the background and use of the letter you are reading, the story becomes even stronger and it really added another fascinating layer to it all for me. If I have to criticize something, it has to be the choice of cover. The child with the prominent tear on its cheek caused me to expect a completely different story from what this novel is actually about, something in the line of a basic drama, while this is a original and captivating book, a book that needs a cover that shows this and immediately draws people in, just like the story itself.

Overall, 'I Came to Say Goodbye' is a compelling, heart-breaking, thoughtful story which will keep your mind occupied; a story with a powerful voice at its core that will stick with you for quite some time after you've finished it. A must-read!



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