Welcome to another edition of In The Spotlight. Domestic noir has gotten a lot of attention in the past few years, and it’s not hard to see why. Most relationships, especially intimate relationships, are complex, and the people involved in them could have any number of secrets. Family relationships are very effective contexts for a crime novel; and most readers can identify at some level with the characters. Let’s take a look at an example of domestic noir today and turn the spotlight on Helen Fitzgerald’s The Cry.
The real action in the story begins as Alistair Robertson and his partner Joanna Lindsay take a very long flight from Scotland to Victoria, where Alistair grew up. As if the length weren’t hard enough, they have with them their nine-week-old son Noah. As anyone who’s ever taken a long trip with an infant can tell you, it’s difficult even under the best of circumstances. And these are not the best of circumstances. For one thing, Noah is still more or less a newborn, so his parents are sleep-deprived. For another, he is not an ‘easy’ baby. Many new parents would have been unwilling to make such a long journey with such a young baby, but Alistair has an important purpose in mind. His ex-wife Alexandra lives in Victoria with their teenage daughter Chloe. As he tells Joanna, Alistair doesn’t trust Alexandra, and wants custody of Chloe. He feels his chances are much better if he, Joanna and Noah are in the area.
The trip is horrible and physically and emotionally draining; but the flight lands safely in Melbourne, and Alistair and Joanna start the long drive from the airport to their destination. That’s when their nightmare really begins. Along the way, they face every loving parent’s greatest fear: the loss of baby Noah. Alistair gives the alarm, and a massive search is soon underway. Many, many people are questioned, and the Australian media make much of what’s happened.
At first, there’s a great deal of sympathy for the couple. There are international fund-raising efforts, ‘Find Baby Noah’ campaigns, and a lot more. Even Chloe, who has every reason to resent her father, creates a Facebook page to raise money to find her half-brother.
Little by little, though, questions begin to arise. Even the police, who’ve thus far been very supportive of Alistair and Joanna, start wondering if they might know more than they’re saying. Sadly, it’s not unheard-of for parents to be responsible for the loss of their children. Did that happen here? Joanna in particular comes under intense scrutiny. As the case goes on, matters get worse and worse. In the end, though, we do find out the truth about Noah.
This is a domestic noir sort of novel, so a great deal of the focus is on Alistair and Joanna and their relationship. As the story evolves, we see that bond start to fray as the pressure on them increases. We also learn how they met and what the dynamic between them has been. As the layers of their life are peeled away, we also learn about Alistair’s relationship with Alexandra and with Chloe. Without spoiling the story, I can say that the ways in which these people interact play an important role in it.
Another element in this novel is way the media and the public behave in situations such as this. When Noah is first reported missing, journalists and cameras are everywhere, and much is made of the trauma Noah’s parents are suffering. And with today’s global communication, it’s not long before there’s a worldwide reaction to the event. Comments on news stories and blogs are staunchly supportive of the couple, too. But when the questions start to surface, things change quickly. Blog posts, Tweets, and other commentary become critical, then vilifying. The media’s reaction changes too, with a lot of criticism directed at, especially, Joanna. Everyone, including many of the other passengers on that long flight, weighs in. Then, when a new big story comes along, the media is just as quick to lost interest in Alistair and Joanna and move on to something else. Being under the proverbial media microscope wreaks havoc on the family, and we see how that impacts them as well.
The stories of Joanna, Alistair, Alexandra and Chloe are told in flashback form, and from different perspectives. In this way, we learn what each is like and how their relationships evolved. Readers who prefer linear stories told from one point of view will notice this. Readers will also notice that some points of view are told in present tense, others in past tense. That said though, it is clear (at least it was to me) whose point of view is being shared at any given time, and when the different events in the story happen. Through this slow reveal of the characters, we also see what led to the events in the story.
Along with everything else, this novel is about the loss of a child. Fitzgerald shows in several ways how devastating that really is for all involved. It’s a very, very sad undertone, and readers who dislike stories in which children are gone will want to know this. It’s also worth noting that, this being a noir story, everything isn’t all right again at the end. For a few of the characters, we do get the sense that life will gone and they will survive. But this is not a light, easy story.
The story raises a number of difficult questions, too. For instance, there’s the reactions of the passengers on the flight from Scotland to Melbourne. To say the least, most are not sympathetic. And it’s certainly understandable, as you’ll know if you’ve ever been on a long flight with a constantly-crying infant. On the other hand, as any parent can tell you, one can’t just magically make an infant travel quietly. There’s also the question of what, exactly, the media’s response should be in situations such this. What’s the balance between reporting the news and invading privacy?
The Cry tells the story of a couple whose lives are shattered (or weren’t they already?) when they face the loss of their baby. It takes close looks at all the relationships involved, and raises some important questions. But what’s your view? Have you read The Cry? If you have, what elements do you see in it?
Coming Up On In The Spotlight
Monday 13 July/Tuesday 14 July – The Intruder – Håkan Östlundh
Monday 20 July/Tuesday 21 July – Jamaica Inn – Daphne du Maurier
Monday 27 July/Tuesday 28 July – The Blackhouse – Peter May