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BOOK REVIEW: The Wrong Mother by Sophie Hannah


hannah Many mothers long for a vacation from their life, a few days where someone takes care of them for a change. For most, this remains a dream but Sally Thorning turns it into reality. When a longed-for work trip is cancelled at the last moment, Sally sees the chance to grab a break from her young family. She treats herself to a secret holiday at a remote hotel where she meets Mark Bretherick. In between spa treatments and sleep she indulges in a short affair and after a week she returns home to her life refreshed.

A year passes and one evening Sally is watching the news with her husband Nick when she hears that Mark Bretherick’s wife Geraldine and daughter Lucy have been murdered. In shock she realizes that despite all the details being the same, the Mark Bretherick on the screen is not the man she spent a week with – but what should she do? Going to the police may expose her secret to Nick but keeping quiet may put her and her family in danger. Whatever Sally may have chosen to do is pushed aside when she realizes she’s being followed, and that she could be Geraldine’s twin. In desperation she sends the police an anonymous note but is it enough to spur action?

Sophie Hannah’s third novel The Wrong Mother (published in the UK as The Point of Rescue) is both a psychological detective story and a story of mothers under extreme pressure. Like her previous novel Little Face, Hannah exposes intimate secrets to public scrutiny and explores what it means to be a mother. The police on the case are convinced that Geraldine murdered her daughter and then committed suicide; what woman could write as she did in her diary and not be guilty? Yet Mark is convinced that Geraldine and Lucy were murdered by a man named “William Markes” and slowly, the reader begins to agree.

This is not an easy book to read; Hannah has crossed an invisible line and heads straight into the territory of which no one speaks. Motherhood is difficult and at times very hard work. Many mothers of very young children struggle and dream of walking away, yet still love their children. Some even have moments when they are sure their children are willfully tormenting them. Geraldine calls this the ‘conspiracy of silence.’ Anyone who has spent any length of time in childcare of the very young will recognize flashes of their own feelings in the pages of The Wrong Mother, and that’s what makes this an uncomfortable read, squirm-inducing at times. None of us want to admit that we see bits of ourselves reflected in “the horrible mothers” described within.

Despite the difficult topic, and that there may be hard truths to face within, The Wrong Mother is a captivating read. Full of plot twists, red-herrings and psychological labyrinths, the solution will catch most unaware. Yet the greater prize than figuring out “who-dun-it” is in the personal insight gained. Hannah is a gifted and compassionate writer who gently leads her readers from revulsion into reluctant understanding, taking tentative steps toward discussion of a taboo yet vital subject. By shining light on a “shameful” topic, she opens the way for new mothers to get the help and understanding they desperately require, without feeling ashamed and thinking themselves “the wrong mother.”

ISBN10: 0143116304
ISBN13: 9780143116301

Trade Paperback
432 pages
Publisher: Penguin
Publication Date: September 29, 2009
Author Website:
Sophie Hannah’s “soundtrack” for The Wrong Mother: Large Hearted Boy’s Book Notes

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