The Memory Keeper’s Daughter
by Kim Edwards
Families have secrets they hide even from themselves… It should have been an ordinary birth, the start of an ordinary happy family. But the night Dr David Henry delivers his wife’s twins is a night that will haunt five lives for ever.
For though David’s son is a healthy boy, his daughter has Down’s syndrome. And, in a shocking act of betrayal whose consequences only time will reveal, he tells his wife their daughter died while secretly entrusting her care to a nurse.
As grief quietly tears apart David’s family, so a little girl must make her own way in the world as best she can.
I’ve had “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” on my shelf for years. Just like “Brick Lane“, this book has been with me through multiple house moves, but for some reason I’ve never been inclined to give it a read. I’ve finally given it a chance and I must say that I’m glad I did.
In 1964, Dr David Henry’s wife gives birth to twins Paul and Phoebe. They’d only been expecting one baby, so the second was certainly a shock, especially when David discovers that their daughter has Down’s Syndrome. In a panic, David gives his daughter to his nurse and tells his wife that she has died. The nurse, Caroline, can’t face leaving Phoebe at an institution as instructed and instead raises her herself, falling more in love with her every day.
As they both grow up, the story flicks between the two children in a timeline spanning 25 years. I really enjoyed this as it’s not often you get to explore characters over such a long time period. Unlike some books that jump through time, I never felt lost, everything was chronological and clearly set out.
I also enjoyed reading about the exploration and evolution of attitudes towards Down’s Syndrome over time. It was interesting to hear of all of the ways Caroline has to fight for her daughter in order for her to live a normal life and I’d probably have liked to read a little more about Phoebe if I could.
When I think about it though, I’m not sure if enjoy is really the right word to explain my feelings this book. It’s is certainly not a happy story and it’s heart-wrenching at times. Dr Henry and his wife live a life filled with grief and as the years go by their relationship becomes strained, full of secrets, lies and far too many words unsaid and brushed under the carpet.
“She didn’t love him and he didn’t love her; she was like an addiction, and what they were doing had a darkness to it, a weight.”
At first I found that I was flying through this book, devouring it on my morning commute, but as the pages went on I began to lose interest in the characters and their worries. 400 pages is quite a lot of space to fill with woe and with time their concerns began to feel a little trivial. I feel, like I do so often, that this book would have been so much better with a good 100 pages taken out.
“You can’t spend the rest of your life tiptoeing around to try and avert disaster. It won’t work. You’ll just end up missing the life you have.”
Overall rating: “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter” is devastating and really makes you think about the effects of keeping a secret from those you love. With a promising start, I enjoyed the first half but began to lose interest as the pages went on. I’m glad to finally be taking this off my TBR list, it’s 3 stars from me!