LITTLE DARLINGS - by Melanie Golding

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Published: May 2019 - HQ.
Genres: Adult / thriller / mystery.
Pages: 384.
Triggers/Content Advisory: Mild violence / harrowing themes / self harm.
Format: ARC Paperback.
Source: Thank you so much to Jonathan Ball SA for sending me this book in exchange for an honest review. I voluntarily read & reviewed this copy. All thoughts are my own.

The twins are crying. The twins are hungry.

Lauren is crying. Lauren is exhausted.

Behind the hospital curtain, someone is waiting...

Originally, it was that chilling cover that drew me to this book. But as soon as I flicked the first page, I was hooked by something darker.

Golding’s prose is smart and atmospheric, with evocative language and a diverse vocabulary. I also love how the rhythm of her writing so deeply correlates to Lauren’s state of mind; it’s frenzied, emotional, and shows just how distraught Lauren is.

Right from the start, I was drawn into Lauren’s situation and state of mind. Her fear and desperation are palpable, her voice isn’t being heard, her own wants and needs are either misinterpreted or glossed over, and you’re struck by just how vulnerable she actually is – how any woman is, when she gives birth. With vivid descriptions and sensory details, you are placed in the scene alongside her and amidst her stark loss of control. While so small, so fragile, she seizes hold of you as if you might be able to help her.

The pacing is excellent. We alternate between Lauren’s situation and that of Joanna Harper’s, the detective dealing with her case. It’s a riveting story, extremely sinister and prickling with dread and doubt. In a way, it’s also reminiscent of a dark fairytale. I love how the author has drawn from folklore and fairytale to point to mental illness and the effect it can have, and I appreciate how it isn’t stigmatised, either. The chilling quotes at the beginning of each chapter are also a fantastic addition.

Where was Lauren in this maelstrom of awfulness? Where was the person she had previously thought herself to be? Intelligent, funny, in control, that Lauren. She'd been hiding as best as she could, sheltering in the back of her psyche somewhere, allowing the least evolved part of her instinctive self to be the thing that was present in this trauma.

The secondary cast is good, but it's Harper, Lauren, and Amy who make this book shine. All of them very different women, but all interesting, capable, and determined. There's Harper and her stoic motivations, her painful past, and her stubborn resilience; there’s Amy, Harper’s charismatic love interest and a badass journalist who helps solve the case; and there’s Lauren, a frightened mother fiercely protective of her children and at the same time struggling to reconnect with her husband. Through Lauren, the author digs into motherhood and the rattling fears it brings. She examines the unconditional love a mother has for her child - a love that will defy anyone and anything, including reason. Each of these women play a crucial part in holding the story together.

My only disappointment was the lack of backstory. While the ladies’ pasts are hinted at and are enough to provide understanding and motivation for some of the events that unfold, it still isn’t enough to truly bring the characters off of the page. I wish we’d seen more of Lauren’s past, especially. The past incidents that apply to her present situation are mentioned, but they aren't examined. If there'd been the occasional flashback, maybe a glimpse into her childhood, or when she and Patrick first married, or when she lost her parents, that would have brought everything full circle. It would've fleshed out her character more. I also think it would’ve helped flesh out the story.

Little Darlings creeps onto the thriller scene with beguiling charm, suggestive of a Grimm fairytale. The terrifying story feeds on a mother's worst nightmare, but its more subtle message takes a look at mental illness.  

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