This is the third book I’ve read by South African author, Jo Robinson, and the third one I’ve enjoyed immensely. While this is an extremely gripping novel with entertainment value, Robinson clearly intends it to be a wake-up call for women who are trapped in an intimidating and debilitating relationship with a narcissistic husband, and face the long, terrifying road which leads out of it into a “normal”, healthy life.
Donna is an adult with a grown, independent daughter, Shelley, and a husband who provides her with a grand country house, and an extravagant lifestyle. To acquaintances, it appears to be an idyllic life. Donna has everything anyone could want — except a truly loving, appreciative husband. Marco has never physically struck her, but is a master at inflicting mental torture and hurtful humiliation in other ways. He obsessively controls her — searches her handbag, scrolls through her phone history and messages, keeps her isolated from any possible friendships, blames her for everything that goes wrong, and takes credit for everything she does that turns out well. He cheats on her blatantly, with no attempts to conceal the fact. He has convinced her that she is crazy and worthless, and his friends (clients and employees, actually; they have no friends) all think she is a morose, ungrateful ball and chain. She has never told anyone about the things he has done and has defended him to others, covering up for his mistakes when she can, so one of her problems is that no-one would ever believe how she is treated.
But Donna, too, has an obsession — her garden — her private world where Marco never ventures. It is the one part of herself she has kept, and the one part of her that keeps her sane. After Marco mocks her for wanting a computer, which he says she would never be able to use, Donna is reminded by Shelley that there is her old laptop in the closet of her room, and so Donna begins using it, learning as she goes along, becoming more confident on it all the time. She is looking for heirloom tomato seeds for her garden when she comes across an ebook stored by Shelley about “psychotic behaviour, narcissist personality disorder in particular”. Before long, she has found massive information on the net about the disease and reads the stories of others who were trapped in a similar situation to hers, and slowly, Donna begins to understand that she is not the one who is crazy. The only thing is, how can she get out of this destructive relationship?
This story reminded me a bit of a Julia Roberts movie I saw many years ago that I found both shocking and fearful, Sleeping with the Enemy, except that in that story, the character played by Roberts was also physically abused. In both situations, the victim had to have a plan in place, ready to go, in order to escape with no ties to their abuser. In Donna’s case, a chance meeting at a function orchestrated by Marco, puts her in touch with Elvira, who, it seems, has a garden business with many kinds of heirloom tomatoes, and also happens to be a psychic. But the trauma and indecision continue to haunt Donna as she tries to get up the courage to confide in her new friend, and to actually plan her escape.
This book can easily be read in just a few hours because you won’t want to put it down. There is quite a bit of humour in the final chapters as Donna begins to live her own life again and Marco’s begins to unravel; Donna comes up with a home business idea that will help her support herself. There are resources listed at the end of the book that could be very useful if you recognize yourself in this story. Hopefully, not too many will do so. Those who do not, will enjoy the book much more than those who do. Either way, this is a wonderful story with a variety of richly drawn characters, and a chilling realism as Donna begins to recover her sense of self. * * * * *
Available in ebook format from Amazon and other fine book sellers online.