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Aussie Book Review: Fractured by Dawn Barker

Fractured
My rating:              5 / 5
Format:                 Bound Proof courtesy Hachette Australia and
                             The Reading Room
Publication:           March 2013
Extent:                   352 Pages
ISBN:                     9780733629853
RRP:                     AU$29.99

The Blurb
“A compelling, emotional knockout debut from a brilliant new Australian author.  An unforgettable novel that brings to life a new mother’s worst fears.
Tony is worried. His wife, Anna, isn’t coping with their newborn. Anna had wanted a child so badly and, when Jack was born, they were both so happy. They’d come home from the hospital a family. Was it really only six weeks ago?
But Anna hasn’t been herself since. One moment she’s crying, the next she seems almost too positive. It must be normal with a baby, Tony thought; she’s just adjusting. He had been busy at work. It would sort itself out. But now Anna and Jack are missing. And Tony realises that something is really wrong…
What happens to this family will break your heart and leave you breathless.”
Summary and Thoughts
There are many reported examples of post-natal (puerperal) psychosis and the consequences suffered by the affected mother, but none brings them closer to home than Dr Dawn Barker in this, her debut novel, in which she has written a bold account of one couple’s tragic journey into parenthood and the complex realms of the mind.

Tony is certain that there is something wrong with Anna, but he can’t quite put his finger on it. So, the house is a mess with washing hardly being done, clothing not being ironed and Anna not cleaning as much as she used to, not to mention cooked meals which are few and far between and Anna not being able to sleep because of the demands of breast-feeding which have her up every two hours. And then there are the few days where she seems almost normal, washing windows, tidying up and cooking a meal. But that’s normal with a new baby … isn’t it?

At work one morning he receives an anxious call from his mother letting him know that Anna and Jack aren’t home. Anna knew her mother-in-law was on her way over, Tony reminded her before he left for work to attend a high-powered meeting, so why is she not home!

Frantic, and with his mind offering flash-backs of the past six weeks, he rushes out of his meeting. Hours later, after a lot of searching and calling friends to find out whether they’ve seen Anna and Jack and receiving no positive answers, he does the only other thing he can think of and calls the police to lodge a missing person’s report.

He finally receives a call from the police, but all is not as it should be. Informing him that they have found Anna, alive, albeit a bit bruised and battered, there’s just one problem … Jack is not with her. Seemingly catatonic, Anna is rushed to hospital appearing to have lost all contact with reality which means that no-one is able to get any useful information out of her. Fearing the worst, Tony doesn’t quite realise the impact this phone call and Anna’s diagnosis is going to have on their lives and, unfortunately, Anna can’t remember any details. What follows is an anguished account of this couple’s struggle to come to terms with a tragedy that no parent should have to experience.

Whilst the ravages of this terrible disorder and the tragic consequences which followed didn’t only affect Tony and Anna, but their parents too, I couldn’t help but not be invested in Ursula, Tony’s mother. The total opposite of Anna’s mother Wendy, Ursula invoked in me an extreme dislike for her in the way she attempted to manipulate Tony in decisions he should have been making on his own, and had me thinking to myself that she should have been offering unbiased support instead of creating a divide.

All too vivid a reminder of my first birth not going at all the way I had planned along with the determination to try and do everything myself, my coping mechanisms slowly crumbling around me along with the obstinacy of not having the problems addressed, this novel invoked my own painful memories at my experience with full-blown post-natal depression after the birth of my first child, for which I was only diagnosed after the birth of my second child, two years and ten months later – this only after being subtly prompted by both my mother and mother-in-law to seek medical advice.

On diagnosis, my GP in South Africa promptly prescribed medication and put me back onto birth control with strict instructions that I shouldn’t have any more children, and while I didn’t suffer psychosis, the all too real rawness of Anna’s emotions and state-of-mind had me vacillating between continuing to read or put it down. Fortunately, Tony and Anna won, and their story had me in its grips until the last page.

Complex and psychologically-charged with intense themes of guilt, grief, helplessness and infanticide, Dawn Barker, in drawing on her psychiatry background and structuring the novel with two alternating timelines, has mixed clinically sound fact with fiction and adeptly approached this subject with the sensitivity and respect it deserves, not only offering insight into the sufferer’s world, but that of her extended family too, thereby giving the reader a realistic portrayal of this rare mental illness which affects approximately one to two women in one-thousand.

I certainly look forward to Dr Barker’s next compelling addition to the fiction genre and would highly recommend this novel to both men and women embarking on that wonderful thing called parenthood (as well as any prospective grand-parents) in order to gain an understanding of the extreme complexities of the mind in the hope that, though rare, future tragedies like this can be averted.

My thanks goes to the publisher, Hachette Books and The Reading Room for providing me with a bound proof of this novel.

A Little About the Author
Dr Dawn Barker is a Child Psychiatrist who works with families affected by mental illness.  She grew up in Scotland, and studied medicine at Aberdeen University.  In 2001 she moved to Australia, completed her psychiatric training and began writing.  She has published articles on parenting and child psychology for various websites and magazines.
Fractured was discovered during the 2010 Hachette Australia/Queensland Writers Centre Manuscript Development program.

And, yet another one is added to my endless list of books for the 2013 Australian Women Writers’ Challenge.


View all my reviews



4 thoughts on “Aussie Book Review: Fractured by Dawn Barker”

  1. It must have been such a difficult time for you Marcia, I was lucky to have not experience PND but a friend of mine did develop postnatal psychosis after the birth of her third child. She experienced vivid hallucinations, voices and paranoia but luckily her husband realised something was wrong fairly quickly. She was was on my mind the entire time I reading Fractured.

  2. Thanks so much for your comment Shelleyrae, as always, it means a lot coming from experienced book reviewers like yourself! It certainly was a difficult time for me and this novel (and review) was possibly a means for me to exorcise those painful memories. Unfortunately, my post-natal depression never did completely disappear but instead became mild depression for which I still take medication. Depression is becoming more and more prevalent in today's society and my hope is that readers (unlike certain of family members) will realise that this IS a real illness.

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