Book review: The Child Inside by Suzanne Bugler

Since she lost her stillborn daughter ten years ago, Rachel Morgan has felt herself to be outside life, looking in.

Her marriage to dependable Andrew is disintegrating, held together only by their beloved son Jonathan who is turning into a resentful, difficult and rebellious teenager.

They are a family but each of them is an island, each of them alone and, slowly and inexorably, all three are moving towards crisis point...

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The Child Inside is Suzanne Bugler’s second very modern, very astute and psychologically gripping family drama. Her first adult novel, This Perfect World, was a Richard and Judy Book Club pick and here she returns to the same dark and destructive forces which can shadow even the most ordinary family.

Bugler’s novels are as searingly honest as they are unsettling and compelling. She spares us none of the hurt, the guilt, the heartache and the thousand natural shocks that all humans must face on life’s journey.

Winners, losers, battlers and defeatists ... all come within her sights as she sets out to unravel the motivations behind a group of dysfunctional people.

And when you lose your child, she asks, can you ever find your life again?

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As a teenager, Rachel lived through the death from a brain tumour of her well-heeled friend Vanessa Reiber, and learned the hard lesson that even the most enchanted of lives can be easily shattered.

When tragedy strikes her own life as an adult, and she loses her unborn child, Rachel should have turned to her husband for support.

But in trying to protect one another, she and Andrew have ended up further apart. They moved around each other carefully, too carefully, until one tentative month moved into another and suddenly ten years has passed and the ghost of that dead baby is still haunting them both.

Andrew’s constant apology for what happened tortures her and the lines of their marriage are etched heavily into his face.

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To help assuage their feelings of loss, Rachel and Andrew ‘feast upon’ their only surviving child, stifling his childhood and making him a hostage to their own loss of confidence. ‘We drink him in, his every move,’ says Rachel. ‘He is the essence of our lives, our morning, noon and night.’

Obsessed by events of the past, Rachel contacts her dead friend’s brother who willingly steps into the maelstrom of her failing marriage.

They are soon drawn into a dangerous and disastrous affair but betrayal comes at a high price and, having lost one child, how can she bear to face losing another?

Bugler’s writing is deeply introspective and what she sees inside the human psyche is often cruel and bleak but her novels are utterly compelling, carrying her readers though dramas and crises to a point of resolution where happiness cannot always be guaranteed.

A clever and addictive story...

(Pan, paperback, £7.99)