Whitley Bay Book Group – November 2021

The Son-in-Law by Charity Norman

This month we discussed The Son-in-Law by Charity Norman. It tells the story of Joseph who is released from prison after serving a sentence for the manslaughter of his wife and wants to reconnect with his children, who now live with their grandparents. The grandparents have no intention of letting him near them ever again. The book explores themes of forgiveness and redemption, and the long term effects of family trauma especially on children.

The book provoked very different reactions in the group, which led to an excellent discussion. Members awarded star ratings ranging from four stars to “can I give minus stars?”

We agreed that the opening was strong and dramatic, being a transcript of the 999 call made by the daughter Scarlet after her mother’s death. Those who liked it found the issues thought-provoking especially the different effects on all the characters involved, and liked the way that everything was not black and white, that characters could mean well, but not realise the negative consequences of their behaviour.

Others found the plot predictable, and the characters clichéd. It was an easy read, but the writing style tended to be flowery and the dialogue unconvincing, especially that of the teenagers.

The book deals with serious issues such as mental illness and domestic violence, but some of the group felt that there was an element of victim-blaming going on. Joseph’s wife Zoe has mental health issues and a volatile personality, and therefore “provoked” Joseph’s attack on her – one of a long line of female characters in fiction who “deserved” to be murdered. Therefore Joseph gets a happy ending, married to the lapsed nun, and re-establishing a good relationship with his children. This led in some cases to the book being thrown across the room.

It was a good discussion though, and one of the joys of book group is that everyone finds themselves reading books they otherwise would not have chosen.