It’s been a while since I finished reading a book – I think my own life took over for a couple of months and I simply haven’t had the time / the energy or motivation to do so. However, I really wanted to get back to it because I LOVE books – and I just knew I had to pick one of the three unread Kimberley Chambers books left in my possession.
In the end, I chose ‘The Betrayer’, a story which opens with the lead character, Maureen Hutton, finding out that her cancer has returned and that she will be dying in a few weeks time. It’s a pretty tough read, and I knew it would be from the moment I carried on. She decides to write her story down as her memoirs and to get rid of any secrets which she has carried for her whole life – seeing as, as the reader finds out, they have destroyed her family’s life over and over. Then we cut back to 1975, where the problems begin; her fifteen-year-old son, Tommy, murders someone from a rival gang, gets caught and goes to prison. Yes, it is a very heavy read.
As her children’s lives fall apart and descend into chaos across the next three decades, Maureen acts instinctively to keep her family together. Many times, Tommy, at first the teen who accidentally killed someone – then getting involved in a life of crime after ten years in prison – goes way too far, and is frequently the source of Maureen’s problems. As the reader is constantly reminded, her life has been full of struggle from the start – from her father abandoning her, to her murderous son, burying her daughter and a lifelong secret surrounding her youngest’s paternity, nothing comes easy for her. Maybe that’s why, back in 2005 (present-day, for the book setting), when she finds out for a second time that she is soon to die, I genuinely shed a few tears for her. Kimberley Chambers made me cry! That’s how good her writing is.
I loved her other books, the trilogy concerning the Mitchells and O’Haras – and as much as I would love to revisit them in ‘Backstabber’, I have a few books to read first. But while that trilogy had a lot of mad plot twists, and lots of lighter moments, this is darker and even – more mature? There’s a deep sadness to everything as, even though she isn’t in every scene, you’re constantly in the mindset of Maureen Hutton. And when her children do unspeakable things – rape, effecting selling a child – you’re going through it twice, because you know that Maureen is going to be the one to try and tear it apart.
I feel this book would have worked well being a little longer, although despite the hurried nature of four different decades, there is sufficient character development to really feel strong emotions to the characters. An exception would be Susan – although she was just starting to get her life on track by the end, I never really felt anything relating to her. I liked the way the story concluded as well, as sad as it was that Maureen didn’t get her happy ending. It presented the fact that she is not Superwoman, and things were a mess before her, and will be after her. The twist in the final sentences bring home why I love Kimberley Chambers’ writing so much – there always feels like a profound message going on in amongst the criminals and tough lives. Here, I liked how it was left open: we know that shit is going to hit the fan, but it really doesn’t matter, for the protagonist is no longer with us.
I would recommend this book, but I would encourage you to read all of her wonderful books. I rarely show emotion at words, but as I said, this made me cry. A theme running through her stories are that while the male characters have the physical strength and brute force, the women are the true strong one. I hate to call it feminist writing – it’s far too subtle for that. She keeps female characters in largely domestic settings, but they’re always the ones to sort out the problems, and they’re truly hard as nails. But deeper than that, they’re also flawed like all humans – Maureen and Ethel here; Frankie and Jessica in the Mitchells series. By placing women in the centre of the story, but telling the story from her own perspective, it’s far better written than the tokenism which seems to be rabid in the creative industry at the moment. Write about what you know about – and Kimberley Chambers has mastered that. I want to read more, and I will read more. You should too.