Richard and Judy Review The Betrayals by Fiona Neill
" This is an articulate and enormously enjoyable novel."
What’s so intriguing about Neill’s story is that it deals not just with infidelity and betrayal but also false memories. The emotions in the children’s lives are complicated by recollections of their parent’s break-ups, which are not only incomplete, but straightforwardly wrong.
Daisy suffers most from this; but her father Nick is also full of self-justifying deception about just how and why he fell for Lisa.
I thoroughly enjoyed all the medical detail in this book. Rosie is an oncologist; can she forgive cancer-stricken Lisa enough to offer her a place on a ground-breaking trial that Rosie (an internationally respected doctor) is running?
Although Nick is weak and self-deluded, Rosie is strong and truly admirable. Nick – a scientist who has made a study of our interpretations of past memories – has proved they can often be deeply flawed. Daisy’s recollection of her father’s betrayal, when she believes she witnessed his and Lisa’s very first sexual encounter on the Norfolk beach, is central to the girl’s perception of her father.
But is she remembering it right? Or has she got the image in her head completely and utterly wrong?
Although this a deep and engrossing read, it’s also sometimes very funny. Lisa, in desperation about her cancer, finds an alternative therapist who spouts mumbo-jumbo and claims he can cure cancer with coffee enemas and juicing. For the reader, Nick redeems his irritating weakness by describing Lisa’s appointments with this ridiculous man in joyous satirical detail. It’s laugh out loud stuff.
The Betrayals is beautifully written: the betrayed families completely convincing. This is an articulate and enormously enjoyable novel.
"This absolutely fascinating psychological drama centres on how the eight people involved react to the ultimate betrayal "
Lisa is Rosie’s oldest and best friend. When they both marry and have children it seem inevitable the two families will see a lot of each other, including spending holidays together at Rosie’s mother’s old house in Norfolk, which she has inherited.
Then: disaster. Rosie’s husband Nick falls devastatingly in love with Lisa. A coup de foudre. Nick leaves Rosie, and Lisa leaves her husband Barney, so Nick and Lisa can live together in the Norfolk house, which Nick acquires in the divorce settlement. Their four children are almost destroyed by this news.
This absolutely fascinating psychological drama centres on how the eight people involved react to the ultimate betrayal – but there will be more deceptions along the way.
Daisy, Rosie and Nick’s twenty-something daughter, becomes very ill with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. When she was younger her OCD meant she missed school and messed up her university exams. Her condition, a terrifying and hideous mental disease that almost ruins her life, is mesmerizingly documented by Neill.
Daisy’s younger brother Max, now at medical school, is the calm centre of the story. But as the novel begins everyone thinks that Daisy is through the worst. She’s now at uni and has a steady boyfriend.
Then, another bombshell, which Daisy regards as yet another betrayal. Although Daisy hates Lisa for stealing her dad she’s just about come to terms with the relationship when she discovers that Lisa has terminal cancer, and as a result Nick and Lisa are getting married. Daisy’s OCD returns with a vengeance. Lisa writes to Rosie begging her old friend’s forgiveness. Daisy finds and hides the letter from her mother, who she is desperate to protect from further hurt.
I absolutely loved this fast-moving novel about two families deeply troubled by betrayal.
Without giving away the ending, we can safely say it’s not necessarily a happy one! Well done for that decision – it read so realistically. But did you experiment with an alternative, upbeat version, we wonder?
Unusually, I knew how this book was going to end long before I had settled on how it should begin. Although one of the great joys of writing is the way characters can surprise you along the way, there could have been no other possible outcome for Lisa. Her fate feels utterly true to her character. However, Max’s role in the final scene evolved during writing. He became more of a passive observer to events rather than an active participant. So actually from my perspective it is less bleak than I had originally envisaged! My novels seem to have got darker with age, perhaps because I’ve become increasingly aware of life’s fragility and complexity.
The love affair is a classic coup de foudre. Is it based on your observation of the real thing?
Thankfully it is a long time since I had a coup de foudre but I am fascinated by the power of obsessional love to consume otherwise perfectly rational human beings. Sexual attraction is what makes us human and it can be terrifyingly destructive, especially when it involves married folks having affairs and children getting caught in their wake. I am particularly interested in how children react when the very people urging them to develop self-control in their own lives suddenly demonstrate none of their own. It reinforces the sense that, whilst we spend a good chunk of our lives trying to impose order, the potential for all that to unravel is only one decision away.
You write very interestingly about memory of past events, and how it may not be as reliable as we like to believe. Do you believe that reality is relative?
We tend to think our memories are stored in our brain like a computer but neuroscientists have shown how what we remember changes each time we recall an event. So our memory is less like a hard drive and more like a story that is edited every time we tell it. This explains how people can share the same experience but have very different points of view about what happened. Husbands and wives can have widely divergent accounts of even trivial domestic disagreements – a good reason to never go to sleep on an argument! In that sense I believe that reality is subjective. There is no single truth. What we experience isn’t necessarily what we remember.
Your description of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is, well, compelling. A friend of ours suffers from it and you absolutely nail the reality of OCD. How much research did you do into the subject?
Thank you! I really wanted to shine a light on this much misunderstood anxiety disorder. I read everything I could get my hands on about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, including books by sufferers, exchanges on online forums and the latest scientific research into its causes and effective treatments. OCD is one of the least visible anxiety disorders and when I described the character of Daisy to friends and acquaintances it was extraordinary to discover how this devastating illness touches the lives of so many people. The more I read the more empathetic I felt towards sufferers and there was a natural point where I knew I had found Daisy’s voice and could start writing. The idea of Daisy involving her younger brother Max in the illness was instinctive but I have since discovered that it is common to involve family members to help with rituals and provide reassurance, thereby making the problem even more entrenched.
- Discuss the portrayal of Daisy’s OCD in the novel
- This is part thriller, part family drama. Explore the family relationships in the novel
- The story is told from the point of view of four different people – what does this structure add to your reading of The Betrayals?
- Discuss the ending of the novel