The Betrayals by Fiona Neill
Published by Penguin Books Limited on August 10th 2017
Genres: Compulsive Behavior, Contemporary Women, Fiction, General, Mental Health, Mystery & Detective, Psychological, Psychology, Psychopathology, Suspense, Thrillers
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The Betrayals by Fiona Neill is an excellent novel that is a psychiatrist’s dream – or nightmare. There are not just one but two dysfunctional families. (“When it comes to the hierarchy of dysfunction, we reign supreme”). A serious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. (“Mine involved six repetitions of actions that included checking the bedroom windows were shut, making sure there was no gap in the curtains, and tapping the wall in a triangular pattern in multiples of three”). Serial infidelity. Alcoholism. Sibling rivalry. Addiction. And other traumas thrown in for good measure that I won’t reveal.
Dark and depressing?
Such a list of issues might give the impression that this is a dark and depressing book. On the contrary, Fiona Neil writes with a lightness of touch and a sense of humor that makes for a fascinating and easy read. And although all eight members of the two families have a mental illness, a wounded personality or display distasteful behavior, each has redeeming characteristics.
You may be thinking that there is nothing unique in a novel that deals with such psychological problems. What makes it unique and a stand-out book is an underlying theme that runs throughout it. As one character explains: “Every time you retrieve a memory there is a re-storage process that means it shifts and changes over time.” In other words, “it’s a terrifying but beautiful notion that every day we wake up with a slightly different personal history.”
Can we trust our memories?
This has huge consequences. For example, the story is told by four members of one of the families, but how do we know which of them are telling the truth? Is one or more of them re-inventing or re-imagining events? The crux of the story hangs on what one of the daughters saw, in great detail. Or did she? Because we are also told that “science shows that people who claim to remember events in the greatest detail are the biggest liars.” This keeps us guessing, even until after the end.
The Betrayals would make an ideal book for a reading group. One of the characters is aware of this because he says: “No one can render their past exactly as it was – Discuss.”