My nerves are feeling rather fraught after reading the latest Mumsnet Book Club offering – Fierce by Gin Phillips. It evokes similar feelings to Lullaby by Leïla Slimani, it taps into our parental fears. I read this novel with an obsessive fervour, staying up into the early hours of the morning so that I could frantically read and finish this novel. I had to know how it ended or I wouldn’t sleep.
Like An Ordinary Day…
The book starts like any other day, the story follows Joan and her four year-old son who are on one of their regular outings to the zoo. A scenario we can all relate to. How often do we find ourselves feeling distracted, our mind wandering and thinking about something else as we continue our predictable route around the zoo? Answering the same questions that are rapidly fired at us, about the same animals, at the same predetermined spots. Children to a degree are creatures of habit. We are well versed in their quirks, we know the daily routine they like to follow. However, it’s a terrifying jolt when we realise that even the very mundane and ordinary everyday can suddenly morph into a horrifying nightmare.
An Out Of Control Ride
This novel is set over three hours and I crammed this novel into one sitting and probably read it myself in just over 3 hours. I felt like I was strapped in an out of control rollercoaster. I desperately wanted to get off but I also had to know how it finished, I had to know that it ended happily. It was with dread that I turned some pages, my stomach twisting and my breath being held.
The story starts with no hint of the terrible atrocity that is going to sharply elbow its way into the protagonist’s life. We are simply watching a scene that we see at zoos up and down the country. A mother and child enjoying an afternoon in each other’s company, looking at the animals. Until, suddenly a noise in the distance – like a popping sound – alerts Joan to the fact that something isn’t quite right. However, she’s still unsure of what she has heard and questions herself. What could that sound be? Did she imagine it? It’s only when she sees the dead bodies splayed on the ground that she realises they are in grave danger. Then she sees one of the gunmen kicking down one of the doors of the zoo and her mothering and surviving instincts kick in. She must protect her son, she runs and they hide.
As a reader we become acutely aware of every one of those minutes ticking away. How every decision Joan makes could be the wrong one. We feel as if we are in the nightmare with Joan, and as such we feel panicked and cornered.
We feel hunted.
I am in awe of Joan who, despite the awful circumstances, manages to keep control of herself, she is able to reassure her son and make logical decisions despite the horror and fear. We follow Joan as she tiptoes around the zoo in what feel likes a truly terrifying and murderous game of hide and seek.
This is a clever and extremely fast-paced thriller, it will haunt you. As a parent we worry about keeping our children safe and in this novel we see what happens when that safety is ripped away from us. When we no longer have control.
This book is not only a terrific thriller, it is also an insightful study into motherhood. If the backdrop wasn’t so awful we would be able to relish how beautiful the relationship between mother and son is. How even despite the extraordinary circumstances, parenting can still be about the small details, the mundane. How at the heart of this thriller we are looking at a mother who loves her son and will do anything to protect him.
This is a novel for making the heart race. Do Joan and her son make it out alive? Is it a happy ending? Let’s just say that I read that Gin Phillips believes how you interpret the ending depends on whether you are an optimist or a pessimist.
Fierce by Gin Phillips is available to buy from Amazon.
Disclaimer – please be aware that I was gifted this novel as I am working with the Mumsnet Book Club. However, all words, opinions and images are my own.