I Came to Say Goodbye by Caroline Overington is a work of fiction however there are so many elements of the story that are chillingly familiar that you could well be reading a true crime book. The jacket blurb does enough to reel you in –
“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… That is where the footage ends. It isn’t where the story ends, however. It’s not even where the story starts.”
I have some flimsy reasons for picking this book up, the main one being that it filled in the letter O on my alphabetical list of authors (I’m glad Overington got to profit from my OCD tendencies). However, it also counts toward the Australian Women Writers 2013 challenge and was in my TBR stack. Lastly, and perhaps most enticingly, it reminded me a bit of the Kelli Lane story. I’m not into true crime but the Kelli Lane story haunts me.
Overington employs two particular techniques to tell this story – reverse storytelling and multiple narrators.
The reverse storytelling didn’t work for me. In some books it’s fantastic (Canada by Richard Ford comes to mind) but in this case the story that unfolds doesn’t appear to be leading up to the opening chapter until the very end. Of course, you can guess how the story will unfold but I like more clues to bring me back to the opening hook. Furthermore, there are many events leading up to the climax of the story and all are very, very sad and depressing. I did keep wondering how so many bad things can happen to one family although I acknowledge the fact that some people do get caught in a vicious cycle of mental health and welfare issues, which are at the guts of this book.
The majority of the story is told from the perspective of Med, father to Kat, Bluey and Donna-Faye (affectionately known as Fat). His voice is authentic, honest and well written. The remainder of the story is told from the perspective of Kat and from that of a nursing-home aide. Their voices are distinct, if not a little stereotyped. Med’s voice, coupled with the fact that the story is set in the time when I grew up (seventies and eighties) is the highlight.
It’s a little quibble but I didn’t love Overington’s dialogue – the structure was repetitive and lacked feeling (on account of all the ‘he saids’ and ‘she saids’). I perhaps wouldn’t have noticed this as much if were not for the fact that I listened to sections of this book on my Kindle (sometimes I listen to a chapter while I cook – have to make my subtitle, Fiction in the Kitchen, authentic). When the Stephen-Hawkingesque-Kindle-voice reads dialogue that lacks expression, it can be brutal!
Lastly, did I miss something? As far as I could tell, the cover art on this book has nothing to do with the story. Serious fail. How does that happen?!
2/5 I felt like I’ve put many aspects of this book down – perhaps because I found it all so depressing. My score doesn’t reflect the fact that I did find the book compelling reading – I’m sure readers who like a true crime edge would enjoy (for want of a better word) this book.
There are very few food references in the book. The only one that stands out is a reference to ‘chicken and chips’. Knowing that the type of chicken that Med and Fat were enjoying was barbeque chook, I couldn’t go past a favourite – Beer Can Chicken. It looks terrible when it’s cooking but the result is delicious.