I was completely intrigued by the basic storyline detailed on the back of the book – it seemed so very unusual, very brave, and also very emotional and controversial. I was immediately curious to read it. The book tells the sad story of the Henry family – the wife Norah gives birth to twins, but one has Down’s Syndrome and the husband, David, takes it upon himself to give away this daughter and tell his wife that she died at birth. He believes this is the kindest thing to do for his wife, rather than having her struggle to bring up and love such a child, but he has no idea of the damage it will do. He is then burdened with a terrible secret that he must always be on his guard to protect, therefore preventing him opening up to his family; and she mourns the lost child for a long time and is deeply unhappy.

The book has a surprisingly slow pace to it – surprising as I expected such a dramatic storyline to be more exaggerated and to be made, as a reader, to feel constantly tense at the thought of Norah finding out David’s secret, and expected there to be lots of near-misses and almost-revelations all adding to constant drama and edge-of-the seat reading, but I think the book is far better for not following this more predictable route. It focuses more on the feelings of both husband and wife, as well as of Caroline who took in Phoebe (the Down’s child) and is raising her as her own. It is fascinating to explore the feelings and emotions of all the characters, and if the book had raced along at a dramatic pace then this would have been lost. I did feel the tension building in me however as the book progresses, with wondering whether Norah will find out about Phoebe and what the end result will be. It feels like a timebomb ticking away – much as it must have felt for the character of David.

The reader gets to know each character very well, which is valuable in being able to sympathise with them, and each character is very complex and real. Often the same event was detailed in consecutive chapters, but by a different character so we could see how each person felt. I had an enormous amount of sympathy for Norah and her feelings of loss and depression, and I felt a great deal of admiration for Caroline and the difficulties she faced bringing up Phoebe. I also felt sympathy for David – I initially presumed he would be painted as a villain and I would not care at all for him, but he genuinely did feel he was saving his wife pain and he despairs at seeing her still suffering. He also suffers dreadful guilt over his decision, and is constantly trying to decide whether to tell the truth to Norah and yet fears the result, yet all the time he can feel a huge gulf growing between them. He tried so hard to keep his family happy, and yet has caused them great unhappiness which he never envisaged. His thoughts describe the situation perfectly – ‘This secret stood in the middle of their family; it shaped their lives together. He knew it, he saw it, visible to him as a rock wall grown up between them’. It is incredibly sad to see their relationship slowly being destroyed. David also turns out to have other secrets in his life, and this need for secrecy seems to be a symptom of his need to control situations.

The book is very gently and sympathetically written, and encourages you to see and try to understand all the characters’ points of view. I really enjoyed the book, but felt quite exhausted when I’d finished as I felt I had gone through all the emotional turmoil with the characters and experienced the tension of the constant secret. I was also left with a great feeling of sadness at the end of the book – at how many lives were damaged, at how the time lost can never be retrieved, and how the wounds can never heal.

I also think the whole subject of Down’s Syndrome has been dealt with in a very sensitive way by the author. I like the depiction of Phoebe, and felt it changed my perception of Down’s Syndrome sufferers – her character was written with positivity and kindness, and never in a patronising manner. I found this a very powerful, clever, and thought-provoking book, with its message of the damage that secrets can do, and how long-reaching the consequences can be.