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Dec 13

Review: I Came to Say Goodbye by Caroline Overington

Review: I Came to Say Goodbye by Caroline OveringtonI Came to Say Goodbye by Caroline Overington
Published by Random House Australia on 2010
Genres: fiction, general fiction
Pages: 299
Source: ARC received from publisher
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It was four o'clock in the morning. The car park outside Sydney Children's Hospital was quiet. A young woman, dressed only in a dressing gown and slippers, pushed through the front revolving door. Security staff would later say they thought the woman was a new mother, returning to her child's bedside - and in a way, she was. She walked past the nurses' station, into the nursery, where a baby girl - a gorgeous, black baby girl - had kicked herself free of her blankets. The infant was laying face down, the way babies sometimes will: her cheek was flat to the white sheet; and her knees up under her chest. The infant stirred, but did not wake when the woman placed the girl gently in the bottom of the shopping bag she had brought with her. The woman put a toy giraffe from the nursery into the bag with the baby. With the bag hanging heavily from her left hand, and the giraffe's head poking up, through the handles, woman walked back down the corridor and out to the car park. There is CCTV footage of what happened next, and most Australians would have seen it, either on the Internet, or the evening news. The woman walked across the car park, toward an old Corolla. For one long moment, she held the child gently against her breast. She put her nose against the back of the girl's head, and with her eyes closed, she smelled her. She clipped the infant into the baby capsule, and got in the car then drove out, turning left at the lights, toward Parramatta Road. That is where the footage ends. It isn't where the story ends, however. It's not even where the story starts.

Given the subject matter of this novel, I had braced myself to be emotionally traumatised the story. Perhaps I over prepared myself to read I Came to Say Goodbye, bolstering my fragile emotions and preparing myself for a heartrending story of child abuse and neglect, because I must confess that I wasn’t the emotional mess that I had anticipated I would be.

Not that I’m complaining. I found the story well written and confronting, and was grateful that it didn’t leave me an emotional wreck when I reached the final page. I think that the perspective had a lot to do with this, with the story voiced by the father and sister of the woman (Donna-Faye) mentioned in the blurb above. I think, too, that it was less traumatic than I expected because the focus was primarily on Donna-Faye’s life and background, rather than details of the abuse of the child.

While this book wasn’t a relaxing, ‘enjoyable’ read, it did deal with challenging issues in a very easy-to-read way. I particularly liked the way that it showed that the tragedy of Donna Faye’s life and actions was the result of a variety of influences and circumstances, some of which could and should have been dealt with differently and others which were simply sad and unfortunately unavoidable.

I Came to Say Goodbye raises many issues and concerns – child abuse and neglect, the education system, special needs children, the challenges of single parenting, the legal system, the provision of social and community services, the integration of refugees into the community and more. It is thought-provoking and challenging, quick to read but with themes and ideas that will linger with you. Not a book to read if you are feeling fragile, but definitely a book that will get you thinking.

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