Yes, My Darling Daughter – Margaret Leroy
Little Brown & Co/2009
By: Sheri de Grom
I’m always positive each read of Margaret Leroy’s, is my favorite work . . . and then I pick up her next novel.
Yes, My Darling Daughter is a hands-down winner and I expect it will make my list of best ten novels I’ve read in 2012.
Yes, My Darling Daughter has been categorized by many as a mystery but it’s so much more. It portrays the loving relationship of a single mother who’s losing her four-year old daughter, Sylvie, to a strange, otherworldly fixation. It seems there’s a long-ago crime that’s haunting Sylvie.
Margaret Leroy has proven her ability to write mother-daughter relationships in the two previous novels I’ve read. Yes, My Darling Daughter is filled with the sensibilities of an extraordinary single mother willing to do anything to help her child.
Grace, Sylvie’s mother, attempts to give her daughter a balanced home life. Grace feels as though she’s living on the edge to keep Sylvie’s life as routine as possible.
Grace works in a London flower shop and her salary barely meets their living expenses. When she became pregnant with Sylvie, Dominic—Grace’s married lover—abandoned her after she refused to have an abortion.
Grace doesn’t know how to handle Sylvie’s sudden outbursts of screaming, her rigid body, and her own inability to comfort her daughter. One of the worst outbreaks Sylvie has occurs at Sylvie’s best friend’s birthday party.
. . . Pg 8 [Out of nowhere, some instinct makes me turn. It’s Sylvies’ go at apple bobbing, she’s kneeling by the bowl. I don’t see exactly what happens. A commotion, a scrabble of boys near the bowl, and then water everywhere, all over the stripped pine floor, and on Sylvie’s hair and her clothes. I see her face, but I can’t get there in time, can’t undo it. I’m too late, I’m always too late. She’s kneeling there, taut as a wire, the other children already backing away from her: tense, white, the held breath, then the scream.
The children part to let me through. I kneel beside her and hold her. Her body is rigid, she’s fighting against me. Her screams are thin, high, edged with fear. When I put my arms around her, she pushes against my chest with her fists, as though I am her enemy. Everyone’s eyes are on us: the other children, fascinated, a little superior; the women, at once sympathetic and disapproving. I glimpse the magician’s look of startled concern as he gathers the other children together for the next game. I try to sweep her up in my arms, but she’s fighting me, I can’t do it. I half carry, half drag her into the hall. Karen comes after us, closes the living-room door.] . . .
Grace attempts to repair the damage to her friendship with Karen. After all, Karen is her only real friend in what Grace often refers to as the normal world. It was at Karen’s house where Sylvie had her melt-down over the bobbing for apples incident.
Grace is walking a tightrope with the daycare Sylvie attends. Sylvie’s behavior toward other children is inappropriate and her cold gaze at others can’t be explained. Each day Grace stops at the daycare to pick Sylvie up and each day the supervisor tells Grace she needs to find another place for Sylvie to stay.
The day arrives when Sylvie can no longer go to the daycare and there’s no one else to watch her. Grace’s boss at the flower shop tells Grace she’ll no longer have a job for her. She has to have help she can depend on every day and a four-year old child cannot come to the flower shop.
Stopping at the market one day, a news headline catches Grace’s eye. . . . Pg 57 [Things that go bump in the night are all in a day’s work for Dr. Adam Winters, of the Psychic Institute at Hampton University. Dr. Winters talked to me in the disappointingly prosaic setting of his office in the Department of Psychology. A soft-spoken man, whose gentle voice belies his evident energy and fascination with his subject, he has investigated ghosts, poltergeists and cases of telepathy. Sounds like an exciting job? “Mostly it’s quite routine,” says Dr. Winters. “For instance, if someone claims to have telepathic powers, we might set up an experiment where they have to make predictions, and we analyze the results to see if their guesses are better than chance. Basically we’re applying scientific methods of inquiry to the things that happen to people that they can’t explain . . .”]. . .
In an effort to help Sylvie, Grace has tried all the conventional ideas everyone has tossed her way. She becomes more and more frantic. She’s on her own to find out what’s wrong with Sylvie. There’s a constant sense that something about Sylvie is beyond her ability to help.
Out of a sense of helplessness, Grace calls Dominic, Sylvie’s father. She hasn’t seen him since before Sylvie was born and has never asked for help. Dominic has the ability to help support Sylvie but he’d asked Grace to have an abortion. Putting pride aside she calls Dominic and asks him to meet her for coffee.
. . . Pg 106 [“So, Grace, you and me,” he says. His eyes looking deep into mine. “We had our good times, didn’t we?”
He’s the only man I’ve ever loved, the father of my child. It’s not the way I’d have put it.
I watch him walk away from me, out the door and down the street, where the rain is coming on heavily now. Walking briskly, as though he’s glad to be gone. The rain that dribbles down the window blurs and smudges the shape of him, the way things blur when your eyes are wet with tears.]. . .
Grace reaches a point where her own life seems meaningless. It’s impossible for her to have friends or go on an occasional date. Every moment of her life is consumed with Sylvie’s needs.
Grace accepts that Sylvie may have lived a past life and brought it into this world with unresolved issues. The dangers haunting her daughter in the past may have transcended into Sylvie’s world of today.
Normally I would have been put off by the story development. I’ve never been one to read about past lives and moving through the universe, but Margaret Leroy’s characters are so fully developed and deliciously complex that I became engaged in the story and no one could have taken the book from me. I was reading to the end!
The pace of the novel never slowed. I saw, heard, and felt Grace’s anguish as she realized for the final time that she couldn’t help Sylvie. That whatever was wrong with her daughter, she couldn’t make it right.
Grace turns to Adam Winters for help. She has no other options and Adam has been willing to help from the first time Sylvie met with him. It helps the story that Adam has a grant from the university where he is employed and the grant allows him to pay for their expenses as they travel to Ireland from London where the deep interiors of Sylvie’s mind seems to reside.
Yes, My Darling Daughter by Margaret Leroy is character- driven and, within the multi-layered plot, emotions are captured and held hostage. A previous perception of what once was considered fact is shattered forever. Language is masterfully employed.
Powell’s Books compared Margaret Leroy to rank and file authors: Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, Henry James’s The Turn of the Screw, or, more recently, Patrick McGrath’s Asylum. I’d add Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend to this esteemed list.
Yes, My Darling Daughter is a page-turner from the first sentence. I highly recommend this novel for any book group and certainly any individual intrigued by complex characters, a well-thought out plot with numerous twists and turns and what seemed an impossible but believable ending. I’m now a bigger fan of Margaret Leroy than ever.
It’s interesting and informative to read the entire body of work of an author now that I’m reviewing books. The Soldier’s Wife is definitely women’s fiction. Postcards From Berlin is women’s fiction with mystery components added. Now, Yes, My Darling Daughter, I’d still categorize as women’s fiction with strong suspense elements. This novel will also appeal to readers who enjoy the psychological mystery component.
For me, Yes, My Darling Daughter was a five-star read and I don’t have a desire to place it in a genre category. This novel stands alone in a literary field shared by few.
I unconditionally recommend Yes, My Darling Daughter to book clubs and individuals alike. I could not put this fascinating tale aside.