Jodie Garrow has made it. As a girl from the wrong side of the tracks in small-town NSW, she set herself the goal of being “normal” – that is, being one of those women with a rich husband, nice house, nice cars, and a couple of kids. Soccer runs, tennis mornings, volunteering at the canteen. In marrying Angus Garrow she has built up the life story that she dreamed of as a child. But in The Mistake, Wendy James’ latest novel, Jodie Garrow is also hiding an important fact from her whole family and social circle.
When daughter Hannah breaks her leg on an unauthorised extracurricular activity while on a school trip, Jodie drives down to pick her up from a small hospital. As soon as she enters she realises what a terrible mistake she has made in coming back. For in the same hospital, many years earlier, Jodie made what turned out to be the worst decision of her life. She had a baby, and then immediately gave it up for adoption. The only problem being that the adoption was not through the normal, official, legal channels. For decades she has tried to hide this from everyone back home, and until now, has been successful. But a too-observant, too-helpful nurse at the hospital has recognised Jodie and has tried to trace the baby. When she cannot find any trace of the child, the police must be informed and suddenly Jodie’s life careens out of control.
The media attention focused on Jodie and her family, and the town and then world reaction to the story spirals rapidly out of any kind of sanity. Internet blogs and comments can, and often do, rapidly detach themselves from facts and instead become vicious, one-sided attacks. Jodie cannot do anything but retreat before this, and watch as her friendships and relationships break down one by one. Wendy James has written a powerful novel examining the way that the media circus can become a maelstrom, and by putting a mother at the centre of the story, a story that has echoes of Lindy Chamberlain and Kate McCann, she plays a gripping psychological game. You are never certain if you should be supportive of Jodie, or not – after all, what if it was you in her place?
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