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Fractured (2013)

Fractured (2013)

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3.91 of 5 Votes: 1
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0733629857 (ISBN13: 9780733629853)
hachette australia

About book Fractured (2013)

This review is kindly brought to you by Wild Colonial Girl blog: the past couple of months, I’ve started a new series — where I review someone’s book, and they review mine — and we put them up at the same time. My idea was for it to be a kind of ‘two of us’ of books/authors, where we find the connections between our work — and our lives. The first wonderful exchange was with Walter Mason (I reviewed Destination Cambodia: Adventures in the kingdom and he took a squiz at just_a_girl).This time, I take on Dawn Barker’s popular debut novel, Fractured.Just from the outset, this review is going to have *Spoilers*. There is so much exciting plot happening in Dawn’s book that I don’t want to pussyfoot around it…I recently became familiar with Dawn Barker’s work, as part of a posse of writers in WA (Annabel Smith, Amanda Curtin, Natasha Lester, Emma Chapman, Sara Foster, to name a few) and her book featured in Friday Night Fictions (August issue). Fractured also often featured in the Australian Women Writers Challenge, where it was a hot favourite with reviewers, and Annabel Smith did an in-depth interview with Dawn.Reading Fractured brought up all kinds of memories. Nothing prepared me for the emotional and physical onslaught of having children. Pregnancy was tough. I spent the first three months pretty much unable to stand up due to so-called ‘morning sickness’ (god, that term doesn’t do it justice) — twice! Before the second pregnancy, I engaged in some heavy-duty magical thinking and decided that if I just wished hard enough, I surely couldn’t get that sick the next time. It was worse!I learnt the true meaning of the term ‘shit a brick’ (constipation, OMG!) and then, just as I was starting to enjoy putting on copious amounts of weight and eating carrot cake every day, I found out I had gestational diabetes, which put me on a strict and boring regime of no sweets, rice, pasta, and involved injecting myself in my wiggly stomach each night.After I gave birth (lucky for me, quick and straightforward: knew those dancing hips were going to come in handy at some point), I had the pinks the first time. I was joyous (verging on manic I suspect). The second time, I got the blues. I thought it would be easy peasy the second time around. No troubles with breastfeeding. Relaxed. Settling and swaddling a cinch. But no. GG decided she would not sleep unless in my arms (or my husband’s). For the first three months, due to various people pleading with us not to lie in bed with her, my husband and I alternated nights of trying to sleep half-sitting up on the couch. For the first three months, I never got more than two straight hours sleep.I fought the definition of postnatal depression at the time because I thought ANYONE would go nuts having to endure that kind of sleep deprivation for so long (this is not to dismiss the idea of postnatal depression as a serious issue, though, for many women). It got to the point that, even when I had the chance to sleep, I just couldn’t seem to work out how.Which brings me to Anna, the central character in Fractured. Anna doesn’t sleep either. The world leading up to getting pregnant and giving birth is shown to be one of illusion, of unrealistic expectations. Highly organised, nothing seems to go to her often rigid plan. Her birth plan is ignored. Her feelings for her baby are not the way she had hoped.She feels isolated and cornered, unable to communicate with her husband, Tony. He leaves the house to go back to work pretty soon after she returns from hospital, not understanding that she is afraid, anxious, and on the verge. She doesn’t have the language to ask him to stay. Or to ask him (or anyone) to help. The amount of responsibility she takes on completely destroys her.And on top of that, the reader gradually learns that Anna is contending with something equally serious. She is starting to hear voices, urging her on an increasingly paranoid and soul-destroying route. Her son is not yet six weeks old. But she cannot protect him from her thoughts.I was familiar with postnatal depression but had never heard of postnatal psychosis. Dawn Barker is also a child psychiatrist so her insight into this condition (and Anna’s character development) is crucial. The book also takes us into some disturbing contemporary hospital practices, including giving Anna ECT without her permission — in a very short timeframe (when she’s in no position to contest the decision). The idea that this is possible, that a patient’s rights are systematically stripped when they enter hospital for care, is terrifying.The book’s clever structure, that interweaves chronology, and various characters’ stories, means Fractured takes a while to reveal important moments, and there’s a real sense of doom and mystery surrounding Anna’s uncharacteristic behaviour. It’s a cliffhanger of a book, in every sense of the term.It’s also a book about blame. Certain family members are quick to withdraw from Anna, unable to reconcile her actions with their definitions of acceptable boundaries to cross. Tony wrings himself dry, wondering at his own absence, his selfishness, his culpability in the desire to escape family for work.Self-blame can be the most poisonous thing of all. Anna condemns herself for not living up to her own ideas of what a ‘perfect mother’ should be. In just_a_girl Margot, Layla’s mother, shares this black-and-white way of looking at the world. When looking at Layla, she sees her own failings reflected, rather than a child who deeply loves her and is desperately seeking her attention. By continuing with her blinkered thinking from when Layla is a baby, Margot misses out on all the good things, unable to see beyond her own limited view.I was excited to read that one of the main influences for Dawn when writing her novel was Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin. It taught her that a mainstream novel could take on highly emotive and harrowing topics. I read it when writing just_a_girl and found it changed my whole idea of character too. I realised that Margot didn’t have to be likeable but her way of thinking needed to be believable (if misguided). The way she perceives Layla is, from early stages of motherhood, influenced by the fact that she can’t breastfeed, she feels guilty, she is isolated in the community, her husband is often away working, and her mother was no role model at all. She crucifies herself rather than acknowledging that it’s damn hard.It’s also good to get a husband’s insight in Fractured. Dawn’s third-person narrative means she can fly in and out of all the characters’ lives, exposing their dreams and perceived failings. I can only imagine how hard it is, too, for the significant other like Tony who get no sleep, haul themselves off to work, feeling guilty at the sight of mum looking so exhausted and fragile (but hey, the experience is not like this for everyone, I hope!). I remember my husband leaving our house for his first day of work after my second child (at six weeks), and pleading with him to stay. Still operating on no sleep, I breastfed my daughter in tears for an hour, as my two-year-old son ran rings around us, asking for all the things he knew I couldn’t provide with a baby latched on; I had no idea how I would get through the day, and all the ones after that. In the end I called my best friend and she turned up, all action-stations, made lunch, sat me outside, told me everyone felt like that (in a sympathetic way), and those feelings drifted off for a while and I saw that I just had to get through it a bit at a time.The death of a child remains a taboo topic. It’s not something people want to contemplate, let alone talk about. But this book opens up the subject for debate. The reader is constantly being forced to confront their own questions of morality, wavering backwards and forwards, and it’s a mark of Dawn’s skill as a writer that we can condemn and be sympathetic to Anna at the same time, asking: at just what point, is she ultimately responsible for her own behaviour?

There are many reported examples of post-natal (puerperal) psychosis and the consequences suffered by the affected mother, but none brings them closer to home than Dr Dawn Barker in this, her debut novel, in which she has written a bold account of one couple’s tragic journey into parenthood and the complex realms of the mind.Tony is certain that there is something wrong with Anna, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. So, the house is a mess with washing hardly being done, clothing not being ironed and Anna not cleaning as much as she used to, not to mention cooked meals which are few and far between and Anna not being able to sleep because of the demands of breast-feeding which have her up every two hours. And then there are the few days where she seems almost normal, washing windows, tidying up and cooking a meal. But that’s normal with a new baby … isn’t it?At work one morning he receives an anxious call from his mother letting him know that Anna and Jack aren’t home. Anna knew her mother-in-law was on her way over, Tony reminded her before he left for work to attend a high-powered meeting, so why is she not home!Frantic, and with his mind offering flash-backs of the past six weeks, he rushes out of his meeting. Hours later, after a lot of searching and calling friends to find out whether they’ve seen Anna and Jack and receiving no positive answers, he does the only other thing he can think of and calls the police to lodge a missing person’s report. He finally receives a call from the police, but all is not as it should be. Informing him that they have found Anna, alive, albeit a bit bruised and battered, there’s just one problem … Jack is not with her. Seemingly catatonic, Anna is rushed to hospital appearing to have lost all contact with reality which means that no-one is able to get any useful information out of her. Fearing the worst, Tony doesn’t quite realise the impact this phone call and Anna’s diagnosis is going to have on their lives and, unfortunately, Anna can’t remember any details. What follows is an anguished account of this couple’s struggle to come to terms with a tragedy that no parent should have to experience.Whilst the ravages of this terrible disorder and the tragic consequences which followed didn’t only affect Tony and Anna, but their parents too, I couldn’t help but not be invested in Ursula, Tony’s mother. The total opposite of Anna’s mother Wendy, Ursula invoked in me an extreme dislike for her in the way she attempted to manipulate Tony in decisions he should have been making on his own, and had me thinking to myself that she should have been offering unbiased support instead of creating a divide.All too vivid a reminder of my first birth not going at all the way I had planned along with the determination to try and do everything myself, my coping mechanisms slowly crumbling around me along with the obstinacy of not having the problems addressed, this novel invoked my own painful memories at my experience with full-blown post-natal depression after the birth of my first child, for which I was only diagnosed after the birth of my second child, two years and ten months later – this only after being subtly prompted by both my mother and mother-in-law to seek medical advice.On diagnosis, my GP in South Africa promptly prescribed medication and put me back onto birth control with strict instructions that I shouldn’t have any more children, and while I didn’t suffer psychosis, the all too real rawness of Anna’s emotions and state-of-mind had me vacillating between continuing to read or put it down. Fortunately, Tony and Anna won, and their story had me in its grips until the last page.Complex and psychologically-charged with intense themes of guilt, grief, helplessness and infanticide, Dawn Barker, in drawing on her psychiatry background and structuring the novel with two alternating timelines, has mixed clinically sound fact with fiction and adeptly approached this subject with the sensitivity and respect it deserves, not only offering insight into the sufferer’s world, but that of her extended family too, thereby giving the reader a realistic portrayal of this rare mental illness which affects approximately one to two women in one-thousand.I certainly look forward to Dr Barker’s next compelling addition to the fiction genre and would highly recommend this novel to both men and women embarking on that wonderful thing called parenthood (as well as any prospective grand-parents) in order to gain an understanding of the extreme complexities of the mind in the hope that, though rare, future tragedies like this can be averted.My thanks goes to the publisher, Hachette Books and The Reading Room for providing me with a bound proof of this novel.And, yet another one is added to my endless list of books for the 2013 Australian Women Writers’ Challenge.

Do You like book Fractured (2013)?

This was a fabulous read from start to finish.Anna has always wanted to have a baby and experience the joys of being a parent. So when she and husband Tony find out they are expecting their first child they are both thrilled to bits. They end up having a healthy baby boy whom they name Jack. Of course being a first time mum can be overwhelming for any woman which Anna quickly learns.Tony starts back at work not long after Jack is born which means he is gone all day as he leaves for work early in the morning and doesn't get home until early evening. Whilst Tony's at work Anna is doing her best with caring for Jack. But sleepless nights and having trouble with breast feeding takes it's toll on her. Although she tries to hide all her emotions and worries from Tony he does finally see that something isn't quite right. So he asks he's mother Ursula to pop around one morning to give Anna a helping hand. He reminds Anna before he leaves for work that he's mother will be arriving soon although Anna insists she doesn't need any help. Having only been at work for about an he gets a call from he's mother. She informs Tony that she is at he's house, but Anna and Jack are not at home. Tony thinks this is strange seeing as Anna knew that Tony mother was coming around. Tony feels that something is wrong so he leaves work to return home but he doesn't find Anna or Jack.So just where have Anna and Jack disappeared to in such a short time. This story was brilliantly written and touched on the subjects of post natal depression and mental health. We get an understanding of the pressures women face being a parent and how hard a struggle it can really be from one day to the next. We also see in this story the strain it puts on fathers as well. I loved this book and at times thought it was quite emotional and it really pulls at the heart strings. Having thoroughly enjoyed this book I have no hesitation in recommending it.

Something in the prologue of this book warned me that something terrible was about to be revealed. I recognised the room (I have been a social worker/youth worker/refuge worker in the past and knew where that room was, what it was.) My interest was stirred but I was hesitant to proceed, in fact I did procrastinate quite a bit before picking this book up again. I do not enjoy reading “lifelike” tragedies- I feel too much. And this book certainly made me feel. My chest tightened as I read the first forty or so pages – the pages describing the time up to what was to be referred to as “the event”, the unspeakable act...I knew what was coming. I couldn’t breathe. I ask myself, is it my studies or work history or my own experience of childhood/motherhood that instilled this tension within me? Would a childless woman or a man be so affected by this script? I don’t know I can only read and interpret the world through my eyes, my experiences. An emotional and tension packed introduction to a topic that no one mentions out loud. (I deliberately avoid “spoilers”) It is time the taboo was broken and maybe this book will be the catalyst that will drive this conversation into the open. It is a conversation mothers should have with their daughters, and daughters should have with their friends and partner. It is a subject the world should be talking about and thinking about and changing. Each one of us can help create this change. Back to the book – emotional, VERY. A suspenseful start, a sad, sad truth then unfolds – the truth about the event itself and the truth how others respond to this situation. We see through the reactions of the other characters; the mum, mother in law, husband, friends etc how they responded, the responsibility they did not embrace. I hope I would react differently. It is a credit to the author that the characters evoke such strong reactions: I hated the mother in law, her smugness, her selfishness, her inability to show her feelings, her lack of charity. I wanted the husband to be berated- he was selfish, he did not respond the clues and hints that something was really not right and he did not intervene; he went to work. I was angry that society put so much pressure on women, especially young women – to be pretty, thin, perfect, caring, a housewife, a provider, a mother, a cleaner and unselfish. I felt so sorry for the Anna. I felt she had been let down by all those around her – and had been since a child. “Life is fine”, we have that throwaway line spoken everyday; listen. We all cope when everything is going well, it is not until we are tested that the fractures begin to show. I think this novel demonstrates the need for more honesty in life and relationships and the fact we - men and women have forgotten how to ask for help and maybe some of us have forgotten how to respond. A great read – keep the tissues handy.
—Carol - Reading Writing and Riesling

In this brilliant psychological drama, I found sincere empathy for each of the 6 main characters, and the relationships between them. These characters are Anna, the tortured young mother; her non- understanding husband, Tony; Wendy, Anna's mother, who has had mental problems of her own; Ursula, the mother-in-law, whose main concerns were only for her own children; and Ursula's conforming husband. The real crisis begins with the birth of Jack. Indeed, if the characters themselves had found more empathy, understanding, and care of each other - the tragic set of circumstances would not have occurred.I don't imagine that anyone reading this book will not come out without more knowledge, and understanding, of postpartum mental illness - and generally, the effects that lack of understanding and care can have on those around us.Dawn Barker, a psychologist and mother herself, has given us a sensitive, compassionate and gripping first novel!
—Faye Barron

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