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Mother battles the medical establishment when her child comes down with a mysterious illness—in this indictment of the British health care system.

At 13, artistically gifted Catriona Lydgate was abandoned by her alcoholic mother and placed in institutional care. In her 20s, Catriona met Richard, the divorced, debonair father of one of her charges at the preschool where she worked. Now happily middle-class and married to Richard, Catriona is disturbed when she starts receiving beseeching postcards from her mother in Berlin. Around the same time, Catriona’s eight-year-old daughter Daisy comes down with a debilitating stomach flu she can’t seem to shake. The family GP doesn’t take the illness very seriously, clearly considering Catriona an overly protective, hysterical mother. But after Catriona’s repeated prodding, the GP reluctantly refers the child to a pediatrician who also clashes with Catriona. Soon the doctors are proposing that she is at least part of the problem, if not its cause (Munchausen by Proxy is bandied around). At first Richard seems fairly supportive, but when Cat, increasingly angry and defensive, demands that he go along with hiding her bad childhood from the authorities, his understanding falters. Support arrives—of course—in the form of another attractive divorced father, an Irish journalist who has recently moved into the neighborhood. He takes Catriona’s side unquestioningly. As Cat becomes ever more driven, Leroy gives her daily life a lurking undertone of menace that adds an element of psychological mystery. Although Catriona is eventually vindicated, for long stretches she is no clear-cut heroine, but a woman still in the thrall of early demons; we can understand why Richard (who is too easily discounted as a philanderer) and the doctors would suspect her tendencies toward paranoia and obsessiveness.

British author Leroy’s US debut starts strong, creating delicious uncertainty about the heroine, but eventually settles for pat answers and easy romance.

Pub Date: Aug. 11th, 2003
ISBN: 0-316-73813-1
Page count: 400pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1st, 2003


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