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The Mistake by Wendy James
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The Mistake (edition 2012)

by Wendy James

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125768,668 (4.33)1
Member:shelleyraec
Title:The Mistake
Authors:Wendy James
Info:Camberwell, Vic. : Penguin Group, 2012.
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
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The mistake by Wendy James

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Showing 5 of 5
This is another fascinating read from Australian author Wendy James. (I read WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? last year).

Jodie Garrow kept a secret about her first baby, Elsa Mary, for twenty four years. When her teenage daughter Hannah breaks her leg on a school excursion she is hospitalised by chance at the very hospital where Jodie gave birth to her first child. Hannah shares a genetic characteristic with the earlier baby, and by chance a nurse at the hospital recognises this and then recognises Jodie. Thus begins the chain of events that leads to the investigation of what happened to baby Elsa Mary Evans.

Wendy James really enables the reader to see events from Jodie's point of view. When the hospital nurse searches the records for Elsa Mary's birth certificate and fails to find it, she notifies the authorities and then it becomes a police matter. Jodie and her husband take the step of publicly searching for the baby and so Jodie's story becomes public knowledge. What happens to Jodie and her family is frequently compared to what happened in real life to Lindy Chamberlain in the disappearance of Azaria.

As I said earlier, a fascinating read, well worth your attention. ( )
  smik | Feb 7, 2013 |
The Mistake follows the life of Jodie Garrow, a woman who is living the life of her dreams. It's a life she has carefully constructed, built up from her childhood dreams. Her husband, Angus, is an old-moneyed, good looking lawyer with political aspirations. Her children Hannah and Tom are thriving in expensive, high performing schools. Jodie lives in a good neighbourhood, in a nice home, with good supportive friends and does regular charity work. She has all she ever wanted. But Jodie has a secret in her past that no one in her perfect family knows about, and its impending revelation threatens everything Jodie holds dear.

The Mistake is a super-fast, engaging read that has the intensity of a thriller, with the compelling psychological complexity and deep thematics of literary fiction. Jodie’s development is subtle, moving between an internal and external perspective that contrasts Jodie’s slick, calm demeanour with her inner turmoil. The book mingles reflection and memory with perception and superficial judgement. Initially Jodie’s calm has a similar effect on the reader as it does on the narrative public – it distances us. However, as the story progresses, we learn more and more of Jodie’s unhappy upbringing – her unloving mother and missing father:

All Jodie wants, all she has ever wanted, is a life without grubbiness, without chaos, a life that follows a clear trajectory of progress, of achievement. Surely, she thinks, it isn’t that much to ask. (187)

There are plenty of villains in the story. The most pervasive is Angus himself, with his easy, privileged infidelities, though he does begin to grow a little through his panic attacks, fear and pain. A less complex villain is Angus’ hideously snobby mother, who achieves an unambiguously Dickensian unpleasantness, Jodie’s false friends are also antagonists who begin to creep away when her secret becomes public. The biggest villain however is the general public that is quick to judge, and takes such great Schadenfreude in Jodie's misfortunes. The story pivots on these antagonists, and brings in a broader philosophical perspective about the role of the media and the public’s hunger for voyeurism:

She can see now how it happens, to the Amy Winehouses, the Heath Ledgers, the Michael Jacksons – can understand why they seek the solace of drugs or alcohol or risky behaviour. Perhaps it makes no difference, really, whether they’re feted or maligned, adored or abhored – either way, they’re endlessly exposed their every action scrutinised discussed, critiqued. They’re like butterflies trapped under glass, microbes under a less than benign microscope. Separate. Isolated. Utterly alone. (202)

Jodie doesn’t get off lightly – she has to pay her dues, as, to a lesser extent, does Hannah. But in the dramatic irony of their growth, there is a strong development and self-realisation, particularly for Jodie. The Mistake is about far more than a single mistake. It’s also about our choices and the flimsiness of the lives we build around ourselves- the many trappings, roles, compromises, and illusions. Though the novel reads easily and won’t be easily left until the full truth of Jodie’s story is revealed, this is no comfortable beach read. There’s a depth to the theme and a richness in the characterisation that will stay with the reader. The power of friendship too, to winkle out truth and deeper meaning in life, is one that provides some redemption to Jodie’s story, though the powerful ending still comes as a shock.

The Mistake is an expertly written, compulsively readable novel that repays the reading with rich reflection. There are no easy answers here and the multiple 'truths' of the novel are continually called into question. Everyone is culpable. There are plenty of parallels between Jodie Garrow's life and those of other real-life women who have been caught up in a media frenzy and judged based on appearance. Nevertheless the psychological implications go beyond a political statement. This is a powerful book with broad appeal.
  Magdalena.Ball | Nov 8, 2012 |
This book is centred around the character of Jodie Garrow born on the wrong side of the tracks who becomes pregnant after a one night stand at a very young age. With no one in her family to support her and not wanting to keep the baby she goes to a small hospital where, with the help of the matron, she has the baby illegally adopted and tells no one. She then carries on with her life , marries lawyer Angus and has two children. Her life seems to be going well and she has all she wants until an unexpected visit to the hospital where the birth took place brings her face to face with her past, and the adoption is brought to the attention of the authorities who want to know what has happened to the baby and where she is now. When there seems to be no trace of the baby the media are all to quick to consider that Jodie may have in fact killed her. The narrative moves between the past as Jodie recounts the events surrounding the birth, and the present where we see the profound effect this event has on the lives of her husband and her daughter Hannah. The mystery element of the story kept me really interested. I really enjoyed this book and would recommend it as a good one to read. ( )
  kiwifortyniner | Sep 24, 2012 |
I still remember the profound sense of disquiet that WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? left me with, and Wendy James has done it again with THE MISTAKE.

There's something about Jodie Garrow that I suspect is going to trigger differing responses in readers. Personally I couldn't get past a very obvious sense of Stepford Wife syndrome. She's a socialite, immaculately made-up, coiffured, dressed to the part of the wealthy wife of a high profile husband. There's the perfect family - a boy, a girl, a modern house. She's a big fish in a very small pond - a metaphor that extends as the plot of the book expands and, in Jodie's eyes, she's increasingly surrounded by the sharks - media, friends, mother-in-law. Even the supportive, but ultimately unfaithful husband. There's obviously a lot wrong in Jodie's life and it seems that the revelation of the illegal adoption all those years ago has suddenly bought all that's bad to the surface.

It's also distinctly possible that Jodie is everything that's wrong in Jodie's life, and this author has done a particularly good job at confusing that possibility. Is Jodie the ultimate unreliable narrator, or is the media frenzy, the trial by public opinion, more what is going very very wrong in this woman's life? Why has she stepped back, wrapped herself in what seems oddly passive acceptance, why doesn't that quite stack up against the revelations of Jodie's background and her determination in other areas of her life? Add a philandering husband who does seems to be stepping up to help, a rebellious teenage daughter, and there are cracks in this perfect life that widen with every page.

The point of view moves around between Jodie, her husband Angus and sixteen-year-old daughter Hannah. The timeframe also changes between the present and 1986 when the missing baby was born. The main voice however is always Jodie. As everybody else reacts and deals with the circumstances, Jodie alone knows the full story of what happened to baby Else Mary. Yet somehow her story doesn't quite ring true - whether or not that's because the media hype is winning, or whether or not there is something wrong in what Jodie is saying is not all that easy to decide.

It was hard not to be struck by the coincidence of finishing THE MISTAKE just as a Northern Territory coroner declared that a dingo did indeed take baby Azaria Chamberlain. Hard not to think of the hysterical media and public speculation that went on around that case, hard not to consider the mindless obsession with looks, clothes, demeanour.

In THE MISTAKE, once again, James takes the reader into some very interesting territory. The book is definitely almost pitch perfect psychological thriller, and it's going to be very discomforting reading for some people. It's sneakily challenging, disconcerting, compelling, car crash fascinating, and probably one of the best fictional reminders I've had in a while that public and media opinion should never be mistaken for the justice system, regardless of the ultimate outcome.

http://www.austcrimefiction.org/review/mistake-wendy-james ( )
  austcrimefiction | Jul 6, 2012 |
The carefully constructed and comfortable life of Jodie Garrow, a forty- something housewife and mother, unravels after a chance encounter reveals her closely guarded secret putting her at the center of a police investigation and under intense public scrutiny. At barely 19, Jodie gave birth to a baby girl in a small suburban hospital and The Mistake focuses on determining the fate of the infant, as well as exploring the effects of the subsequent accusations and suspicions on Jodie and her family.

Unusually, James makes little attempt to garner sympathy for Jodie from the reader. She is presented as an immaculately coiffured, socialite wife of a lawyer with political ambitions, who reacts to the building maelstrom by abdicating responsibility for both her past and present. She is seemingly willfully ignorant of the repercussions of her secret being revealed, particularly in regards to the effect on her teenage daughter, Hannah. Jodie simply drifts around the house in a haze of some sort, relying on her husband to manipulate the system to her advantage by exploiting the privileges their money and connections afford her, certain that if she ignores the problem it will simply all go away. Luckily, the third person narrative also reveals Jodie’s past as the story unfolds, giving us a glimpse into her very difficult background engendering if not sympathy, then some understanding of her character.
The complexity of James’s protagonist forces the reader to consider their own assumptions based on appearance, class and circumstance. This is further explored as the author shares the media storm that engulfs Jodie and her family. With very few facts and based primarily on a handful of photos interpreted with malice, Jodie is victimised by the media and by extension the public. The media is not at all circumspect about the case, interpreting her ‘faults’ – her styled blond hair, pearl necklace, privileged lifestyle and reserved manner – insinuating that Jodie’s ambitions led her to murder her infant daughter and her financial status is protecting her from swift legal action. Jodie becomes either a pariah or an object of curiosity in her small town amongst all the publicity, total strangers make judgements based on spurious facts on the internet, in newspaper columns and even her mother, unable to resist the lure of a few thousand dollars, fails to defend her. Her husband’s mayoral candidacy is also scuttled and her children are ostracised.
The perspectives of Angus, Jodie’s husband and Hannah, their fifteen year old daughter, are also explored through the narrative. Both Angus and Hannah are shaken by Jodie’s revelation, despite having their own secrets. The intense pressure of the situation they have found themselves in magnifies the small cracks in the veneer of this ‘happy enough’ family, which also includes son, Tom and tears it apart.

A stunning novel, the tension builds as James moves both the story and the characters towards an uncertain conclusion. This is a thought provoking novel that explores themes that provide and insight into contemporary life. Part psychological/crime thriller, part family drama, The Mistake defies genre conventions and simply delivers a compelling story. ( )
  shelleyraec | Feb 29, 2012 |
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We all have secrets... Jodie Garrow is a teenager from the wrong side of the tracks when she falls pregnant. Scared, alone and desperate to make something of her life, she adopts out the baby illegally -- and tells nobody. Twenty-five years on, Jodie has built a new life and a new family. But when a chance meeting brings the adoption to the notice of the authorities, Jodie becomes caught in a nation-wide police investigation, and the centre of a media witch-hunt. What happened to Jody's baby? And where is she now? -- Cover.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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