“Monster Love” is horrific, harrowing and yet utterly compelling.
Sherilyn and Brendan seem to be the perfect young married couple. Both had troubled upbringings but they have moved away, both physically and emotionally, from families and carved out high-flying careers. Their meeting seems to be the start of a perfect love affair
Neither wants children. They only want and need each other. But Sherilyn falls pregnant and a daughter, Samantha is born. Her parents consider their daughter to be an interloper, a thief wanting to steal their perfect relationship, and so a spiral of appalling abuse and neglect begins.
This horrific tale is told by multiple narrators: a concerned neighbour to a harassed social worker, a police officer who has a breakdown as the result of what he sees, stunned colleagues, the disbelieving families, the trial judge and juror struggling to cope, disbelieving family members, prison officers, a sex offender who crosses paths with Brendan and by Sherilyn and Brendan themselves.
Only Samantha, who had no chance in life, has no voice.
The multiple viewpoints are well balanced and Carol Topolski brings each different voice to life very well.
Sherilyn and Brendan have no perception of what they have done, they have no acceptance that they have abused and killed their own child and they even show pride when the discovery of Samantha’s body is described in court. The only thing that matters to them is the continuation of their perfect relationship.
The horror of the subject matter makes this a difficult book to analyse.
The first part of the book is more effective than the later prison-bound chapters, maybe because there is more happening and there are more points of view to explore.
The suggestions of telepathic communication between the couple and the resolution also weakened the end of the book and felt as if they belonged to a different book.
And so “Monster Love” is flawed, but it is also well written and well thought out, and it will haunt me for a long time.
I don’t think anyone could read this book and not feel shock and distress. It definitely isn’t for everyone and it’s a book you need to think carefully about before starting.
This is a startling debut novel and I am intrigued to see what Carol Topolski, who is clearly a talented and insightful writer, does next.