Review of Silent Child, by Sarah A. Denzil

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It’s hardly untempting to agree with the reader who objected she didn’t want stories about children being abused. I’d not want them either. Abuse of children & domestic violence are two of my triggers. But that is not what Silent Child is about, tho’ what happened to Aiden & who might have been responsible is never out of our minds. While child abuse is something no decent person could enjoy watching, as Aristotle explained long ago, we are pleased by artistic representations of actions we’d abhor in real life. Here the artistic representation is not of child abuse. The focus rather is on the boy’s mum Emma, who gave birth to Aiden when she was a teenager, was estranged from the boy’s father, & is now pregnant with a dtr by her current husband Jake. Ten years ago the 6 y/o Aiden vanished from his primary school & was believed drowned in the Ouse; now he’s found wandering in the woods, undersized, malnourished, & clearly a victim of sexual & other physical mistreatment, but incapable or unwilling to speak a word of his ordeal or anything else. The press descend on Emma, & when she doesn’t co-operate with them, portray her using old social media posts as a slapper & a drunk & a thoroughly unfit mum. Emma also faces a very tense relationship with the boy’s natural father – now an officer RN – as well as his mother who is eager to play the intrusive gran – & her current husband Jake, who seems both to overdo & to resent the role of step-father to Aiden as well as doting on his unborn dtr whom Emma is on the verge of delivering.

Why should we enjoy artistic portrayals of extreme situations? By vicariously sharing every parent’s nightmare, we are relieved of some of our worst fears. Aristotle called that feeling of relief ‘catharsis’. I found the denouement a little too complex with too many villains to be quite believable in real life. But whilst a bit overtopped, the author’s skill in making so many plot elements & characters combine was admirable. The pleasure in a good ‘reveal’ lies in seeing all the parts join together harmoniously & here they do.

I was also attracted to Silent Child from extraneous impulses. The book is apparently self-published, one of those Amazon two-quid specials that Kindle Unlimited members read for free. And as I’m frankly considering going the self-publishing route myself, I wanted to find out if the lack of support a trade publisher should provide detracts from Sarah Denzil’s artistry. I’m sure it doesn’t, except that Silent Child is nearly 100 pages longer than I expect most trade publishers regard as appropriate for “genre fiction.” Tho’ Silent Child sagged a bit in the middle, I’d not have wanted any cuts were I the editor. We need to experience Emma’s stress & grief fully, especially with the vampire tabloid press. Best portrayal of media feeding frenzy since Alex Marwood’s The Wicked Girls.  The pictures from old social media posts they printed were perfectly genuine – their stories were ‘sourced’ (including from a frenemy of Emma’s). But the tale they told of an alcoholic, uncaring & slaggish mum was totally false. Made me reflect.

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