Book review: The Cry, By Helen FitzGerald

Every parent's nightmare

Psychological thrillers set against a domestic backdrop are very much in vogue at the moment, in the wake of the runaway commercial success of Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. The Australian author Helen FitzGerald has been mining that particular furrow for a good while, with a handful of highly accomplished and emotionally resonant novels already under her belt that haven’t really got the attention or praise that they deserve. The Cry is surely the book to change all that.

It is astonishingly good. It is utterly harrowing, completely plausible, constantly nerve-shredding. I felt sick reading it at times, then completely devastated once it was finished. It plays on the deepest, darkest fears of all parents about their children, and embeds that everyday terror in a plot so up-to-the-minute that you’ll swear it’s been lifted from the pages of a newspaper.

The book opens on a long-haul flight from Glasgow to Melbourne. Joanna and Alistair are taking their newborn baby, Noah, to the other side of the world, where Alistair is to attend a custody hearing for his daughter from a previous marriage. The baby is fractious and inconsolable, and Joanna is struggling to cope, at her wits’ end as aircrew and fellow passengers voice their objections and concerns. Pressure mounts quickly until you sense something catastrophic is going to happen, FitzGerald expertly notching up the tension to almost unbearable levels in these opening pages.

Finally, exhaustingly, the plane reaches its destination, but just as the reader thinks things might turn out OK, baby Noah is apparently taken from the couple’s hire car, which they had left momentarily unlocked next to a store in a small rural town. This sparks a massive police search, with all the attendant pressures on the couple that this entails, which in turn creates a storm of social media interest.

As events continue to spiral out of control there is an inexorable, hellish momentum to the author’s prose, a feeling of inescapable fate, and a deep, underlying, primal dread underpinning every perfectly pitched sentence.

Time and time again, just when you think circumstances can’t get any worse, they do – much worse. Alistair’s cold and calculated response to the trauma is at odds with Joanna’s descent into hell and madness, a descent the reader is powerless to escape in her company. The Cry is a remarkable novel – its devastating power all the stronger for its realistic rendering. Brilliant stuff.