Click here to read reviewer Michael Leonard's take on The Child.
The novel begins with an announcement that captures the eye of an investigative reporter: the discovery of the long-buried remains of an infant. This tantalizing mystery sends London’s
Daily Post journalist Kate Waters in search of answers. At a time when print journalism is fighting for its life against a ravenous 24/7
internet, Kate is aware of the dwindling ranks of colleagues in the formerly crowded newsroom. Inspired by the potential for public interest in the child’s terrible fate, Kate pushes for editorial approval for a series: “Who Is the Building Site Baby?”
Barton builds her drama around the bare bones of an incipient story: the identity of the baby, who buried the child, and the three protagonists who drive the tale, the reporter and two women who eventually provide the answers, at least enough information for Kate to pursue the truth. The mystery is given texture by the circumstances of each woman’s involvement, how they may impact one another’s lives, and the secrets they hold close until Kate batters down their resistance with her fierce curiosity, her interviews awakening long-held memories and fear of discovery.
This emotional texture is a hallmark of Barton’s fiction, the important characters fleshing out the past so carefully hidden from the present, grief papered over with marriages, other children. In her pursuit of the story, Kate meets two other women: Angela, whose infant girl was stolen from her in the hospital, a moment’s distraction stealing her happiness; and Emma, a book editor bedeviled by terrible memories and the fear that her recent depression signals that “her bad days are back.” Both husbands seek to comfort their wives. Angela’s husband, Nick, shares the grief for their lost baby, Alice,
and Paul hopes his wife won’t fall into another depression. Meanwhile, Kate’s life is complicated by the addition of a new reporter to mentor. Although Kate resents Joe Jackson for his lack of experience, she gradually comes to value
the earnest young man who looks up to her.
The tale unfolds with Kate as the relentless journalist, the other main characters revealing themselves reluctantly.
While the beginning is sluggish, fraught with secrets and lies, the story accelerates toward an unexpected resolution.
The burden of the past is lifted as Kate’s story falls into place, grief too long denied as truth, buried under years of neglect and heartbreak, is revealed: “A secret takes on a life of its own over time.” Thanks to the perseverance of a dedicated reporter, a dead baby calls out for justice, the living left to honor the dead. One reporter, two troubled mothers, one dead baby begging to be recognized.