After discovering he’s adopted, an epileptic, soon-to-be-married journalist clashes with his brother in Payne’s novel.
David Carter, a journalist for the Guardian, suffers from epilepsy. Engaged and living with his fiancée, Susan, David doesn’t always see eye to eye with his brother, Matthew, but he enjoys the company of his brother’s children. David’s epilepsy is a source of frustration in his life, as is his overbearing boss and his mother and father’s lavish family parties. On a train trip to Cardiff, Wales, Matthew is provoked by David, so he finally reveals that David is adopted. Being a journalist, David can’t help but attempt to find his real mother, Elizabeth. He discovers she’s in poor health and, during her prostitution days, was once involved with David’s father, a violent criminal. Heartbroken, David’s epilepsy becomes worse; he has strange dreams and frequently falls asleep in public. Finally, David has an ominous dream involving his brother, which comes to fruition. Payne opens the book with a synopsis that summarizes the entire story and introduces the bare-bones style of writing. Strangely—perhaps to plant the question of whether the author is in fact playing “mind games” with the reader—the synopsis references a car crash in which David is said to have had an epileptic attack that landed him in the hospital for several months; yet this plot point is never mentioned again in the story. The stiff dialogue can feel forced at times: Susan says to David, “Don’t let Elizabeth’s character defeat you. Remember who you are and your real status in society, as a well-known and popular journalist.” The characters’ one-dimensional emotions reinforce the book’s flat, third-person delivery, particularly with David’s unjustifiably angry and loud outbursts.
A life-changing revelation, but the emotional struggle isn’t engaging.