“McKenzie succeeds in walking the fine line between storytelling and a necessary sensationalism”
The most disturbing news stories I ever had to cover as a journalist working for newspapers and television were the ones about missing children. Everyone – reporters, readers, viewers – feels a powerful empathy for the despairing parents as they try to keep their hopes alive.
So novels which fictionalise such desperate events must tread carefully. I’m glad to say that Sophie McKenzie succeeds in walking the fine line between storytelling and a necessary sensationalism in her excellent Close My Eyes.
The first twist in McKenzie’s creepily absorbing story comes pretty much at the start, and it’s a shocker.
Initially, we think we know where we are in the sad, forlorn landscape that is Gen Loxley’s life. For eight years, Gen has been grieving for her daughter, Beth. Beth is not missing: she was stillborn. The tragedy has blighted Gen’s days ever since. Once a promising novelist, she has lost her muse and now works as an unenthusiastic, half-hearted teacher.
By contrast Gen’s husband, Art – Beth’s father – is on the up-and-up. He long ago dealt with his grief and is making serious money with a small business which is about to get a lot bigger, and an associated spinoff TV show – The Trials – which is making him famous.
Art is desperate for Gen to move on with her own life, and is more or less coercing her into a course of IVF to ‘replace’ Beth. Gen hates the idea.
And then she learns there might not be any question of ‘replacing’ her daughter.
Because it seems Beth did not die. She is very much alive. And she is out there. Somewhere.
“gripping, shocking, enthralling”
I loved the way Sophie McKenzie throws a great big spanner into the works just as we think we know what’s going on. Art Loxley may be an insensitive, bullying, manipulative husband from the outset but we at least assume he has his wife’s best interests at heart. If he can convince her to go ahead with IVF, a resulting baby may give her back the happiness she lost eight years earlier.
Then a stranger, a woman, arrives on Gen’s doorstep. She is plump and middle-aged and Gen ask her what she wants.
‘It’s… it’s your baby.’
Gen stares at her. ‘What do you mean?’
‘She’s alive. Your baby, Beth, is alive.’
It is the start of some deeply disturbing allegations. The woman claims that her sister, now dead, was a nurse on duty the night Beth was born. The delivering doctor apparently dismissed almost everyone else and took a healthy baby girl away from Gen while she was still under general anaesthetic.
And Art knew.
The claims are unthinkable; unbearable. And yet…
Gen begins to investigate. Art is outraged at the allegations, telling his wife to drop the whole thing. Is he right to be so utterly dismissive? Or is he hiding a terrible secret?
Close My Eyes had us both guessing to the final chapter. It’s gripping, shocking, enthralling; the kind of story that lingers in the mind long after you’ve finished the last page.
Here are a selection of the reviews for Close My Eyes
“Effortlessly thrilling and incredibly tense, you won’t believe this brilliant novel’s creepy twists and turns”
“8 Titles To Pick Up Now- Taut Suspense
Hearing from a stranger that her baby she believed was stillborn is in fact alive and that her husband has always known sets Geniver on a perilous quest for the truth”
Woman & Home
“You will race through this fast-moving thriller that saves the most shocking twist until the very end”