DECEPTIONS by Rebecca Frayn

Book Quote:

“But you have to trust me when I say that at heart Dan’s a good kid. Honestly. If he were here now, you would see for yourself. He just needs a firm hand at times. Like a lot of boys his age. It’s just a phase. That’s all. Just a phase.”

Book Review:

Review by Eleanor Bukowksy (MAY 20, 2011)

Julian Poulter, the first-person narrator of Rebecca Frayn’s Deceptions, is a somewhat priggish individual who says things like, “I’ve always believed one must strive to put painful episodes behind one with the minimum of fuss and bother.” He is a master of denial who, in flashback, tells how he and Annie Wray, a teacher, tried to forge a permanent relationship when he moved in with her and her two children by her late husband. Annie is flightier and far more spontaneous than Julian; each provides a quality that the other lacks.

Annie’s daughter, Rachel, is eight; she is a sweet little girl who gives her mother little cause to worry. On the other hand, twelve-year-old Dan has become surly and uncommunicative. He has begun dressing and talking like some of his less wholesome schoolmates in Fishers Comprehensive. Dan’s grades have dropped, and he has made it clear that he resents Julian, whom he views as an interloper. Not long after Julian and Annie announce their intention to marry, Dan leaves and does not return.

This is a heartbreaking tale of a family ripped apart by tragedy. Julian, who adores Annie, tries to be patient with her mood swings. Her outlook fluctuates from optimism to despair; unsurprisingly, she is guilt ridden and finding her child becomes an obsession. To some extent, Rachel and Julian are shunted aside while the drama unfolds. The author captures the agony of waiting by the telephone, spotting kids who look like Dan but are not, and repeating the same information to the police so many times that the situation becomes surreal. This is every parent’s “waking nightmare,” and Frayn explores the ripple effect that this calamity has on the immediate family and the community as a whole.

The title refers to the ways in which we delude ourselves and others: Does Annie really love Julian or is she subconsciously exploiting him? Is Julian psychologically sound or is he so repressed that genuine emotions leave him helpless? Can Annie learn to live with the possibility that Dan may be gone forever? When a shocking development gives Annie hope that her troubles may be behind her, Julian has his doubts.

Since we suspect Julian’s perspective may be somewhat distorted, we have no choice but to draw our own conclusions. Frayn makes good use of dialogue, pregnant pauses, and subtle clues to seize and hold our attention. We suspect that what seems obvious may not even be true, and that one person’s reality can be another’s fantasy. Deceptions is distressing, touching, and painful; it shows how dangerous it is to love someone too much; when we open our hearts, we become vulnerable. Sometimes, self-deception is the only tool that allows us to face another day without going mad.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 2 readers
PUBLISHER: Washington Square Press; Original edition (May 3, 2011)
REVIEWER: Eleanor Bukowsky
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

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May 20, 2011 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: ,  · Posted in: Mystery/Suspense, Psychological Suspense, Reading Guide, United Kingdom

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