Author: Sarah Armstrong / Reviewer: Kellie Byrnes
Synopsis: (Pan Macmillan, 2016) When a new family moves in next door, it takes Anna just two days to realise that something is very wrong. She can hear their five-year old daughter Charlie crying, then sees injuries on the little girl that she cannot ignore. Anna reports the family to police and community services, but no one comes to Charlie’s aid. So when the girl turns up at her door asking for help, the only thing Anna can think to do is take her and run. Raising deeply felt questions about our responsibility for the children around us, Promise asks: if Charlie were my neighbour, what would I do?
Review: In Australian author Sarah Armstrong’s latest book, Promise, a woman with a usually calm and structured life finds herself in unchartered territory when maternal instincts kick in. After seeing evidence of abuse, reporting it, and continuing to fear for a young girl’s safety, Anna makes the life-altering decision to go on the run with five-year old Charlie and leave her everyday life behind.
Armstrong’s past experience as a journalist shows through in this novel. It appears that she has taken a topic that fascinates her, and that has certainly been in the media quite a bit in recent years, and delved into the “what ifs” that arise with a reporter’s steady analysis of facts.
While the beautiful and evocative writing draws readers in (particularly once the two characters are in hiding), the author’s ability to consider the legal, ethical, and familial ramifications of Anna’s decision lends weight to the story and keeps it grounded.
The thought-provoking topic is sensitively addressed, and readers can’t help but consider the big questions posed in the novel, on areas such as love, responsibility, courage and relationships, as they spend time in Armstrong’s tightly-wound world.
Much of the novel is set in and around Mullumbimby, in northern NSW, where Anna and Charlie hideout. The author’s experience of living in this part of Australia shines through, and the well-developed setting adds much to the story. Indeed, the rainforest location becomes its own character in Promise, and really sets the mood for much of the book; it is equal parts nurturing and ominous.
While some of the peripheral characters and storylines in the novel may seem like they should have been either left out or more fully developed, the relationship between Anna and Charlie is beautifully depicted and explored.
There is good use of suspense throughout Promise, and the subject matter and prose draw readers in more and more as the book goes on. Short chapters are also perfect for busy women who only have time to read in small bursts.
All in all, lovers of quality Australian writing with complex and thought-provoking themes are sure to enjoy this read from a sure-footed, award-winning novelist.
A copy of Promise was provided by the publisher, Pan Macmillan, in exchange for an honest review.
Connect with the publisher, Pan Macmillan – here