I came to read this book by a rather circuitous route. Two people passed it to me â€“ one had read it in one day, the other unable to finish it. So it came to me to review and I wondered what I was in for.
I Came to Say Goodbye is the second novel from experienced journalist Caroline Overington and has been touted as â€˜amazing\’, â€˜compelling\’ and â€˜heartbreaking\’. And, believe me, it is all those things and more.
It is the story of a family â€“ a pretty ordinary family, neither rich nor desperately poor, living in country NSW. The main narrator is Med Atley, the father and grandfather of the family in question. He is a fairly typical country bloke â€“ happy with what he has, which by and large is a family, steady job and his own home with some space around it. He has three children and when his wife leaves them after she feels there should be more in her life, he is left to bring up his youngest daughter on his own. The other two children are older and they find their way â€“ a scholarship and law school for Kat; and the hope of striking it rich at Lightning Ridge for Blue.
Med is left with the task of raising Donna-Faye â€“ or Fat as she is affectionately known â€“ in the country town that has always been home. An unusual girl, she is bullied at school and struggles to make friends. So when she falls in love with the resident town loser at the age of 16, Med is unsure what to do. Unable to stop her, he tries his best to support her even after she moves in with her boyfriend and falls pregnant.
Unfortunately these events seem to be a catalyst for the trauma and heartbreak that makes up the rest of this story as we follow Med and his family through family courts, psychiatric institutions and, ultimately, tragedy.
Despite a slow start, and a style of story-telling that takes a bit of getting used to, once I got into this book there was no putting it down. You can literally sense the family hurtling towards disaster, like a runaway train nobody is able to stop. For the first time in a long time I have to admit I was tempted to peek at the ending â€“ I didn\’t and am glad I didn\’t but the shocks just kept coming. As well as a gut-wrenching story, the author manages to weave contemporary issues seamlessly through her story. Issues of mental health, immigration, family law and shaken baby syndrome are all covered â€“ without her missing a beat. All are integral to the story and are handled with sensitivity.
It is hard to review this book in too much depth for fear of giving too much away, but believe me when I say that it will leave you feeling somewhat bereft. It is so sad that it almost took my breath away (especially as a mum) and made me want to grab my kids and hug them â€“ hard. But the real triumph of this story is the family whose story this is – because even after the absolute worst has happened, Fat\’s family don\’t abandon her. They are still there for her, and I think that is the real message in this book.
So, I would recommend people persevere with this book even if the style is not to your taste at first, because it is well worth the effort.
Available now: Random House RRP$32.99
Also, you can read our review on her first book, Ghost Child.