Book Review: Breaking Point by Edel Coffey

An innocent mistake. A lifetime of guilt.
Susannah has two beautiful daughters, a high-flying medical career, a successful husband and an enviable life. Her hair is glossy, her clothes are expensive; she truly has it all.
But when – on the hottest day of the year – her strict morning routine is disrupted, Susannah finds herself running on autopilot. It is hours before she realises she has made a devastating mistake. Her baby, Louise, is still in the backseat of the car and it is too late to save her.
As the press close in around her, Susannah is put on trial for negligence. It is plain to see that this is not a trial, it’s a witch hunt. But what will the court say?”

I thought this sounded interesting when the publisher asked if I’d like an ARC on NetGalley and so said yes please.

The book is told from 2 perspectives – the first is Susannah – or Dr Sue as she’s known to millions. She’s a successful paediatrician at a New York hospital, an author of parenting books, and a regular on TV, with a handsome husband and two small daughters. One day – due to stepping up to help her husband by dropping him at work – her usual rigid routine is changed, and consequently she forgets to drop her 6 month old baby to nursery. She’s rushing to get on with a busy list of patients – and because baby Louise is sound asleep – doesn’t realise she’s still in the car seat when she parks at the hospital. Dr Sue hears the alarm going off – when Louise must have woken up – but just assumes it’s a dodgy car alarm and turns it off and asks her secretary to book the car in to the garage. It’s lunchtime before she realises that Louise is still in the car – but by then it’s too late.

The other perspective is Adelaide Gold, a TV news reporter who is assigned the story to cover by her boss. However Adelaide has history with the hospital and Dr Sue herself – as 10 years previously Adelaide’s baby also died, and Dr Sue was the paediatrician at the time. Adelaide’s side of the story covers both now – and what happened a decade ago – and it flicks between the two time periods well, explaining what happened back then and how that has shaped Adelaide’s life.

In the aftermath of Louise’s death – Susannah returns to work and finds solace in her work which has always been a really important part of her life – but this is then used against her when the police decide to prosecute her for manslaughter.

The case is really interesting – and flags up lots of things about working mothers / guilt – and you do wonder how much of it would have happened if it had been Susannah’s husband John who’d left Louise in the car? It’s as if Dr Sue is being used as a scape goat for professional women who don’t want to stay at home and bake cookies.

It also brought to my mind the parallels with the real life events for Madeleine McCann’s mother, Kate McCann, who was heavily criticised for not showing emotion when Madeleine went missing in Portugal 14 years ago – whilst others said it was her professional medic training kicking in. Admittedly Kate didn’t wear designer clothes / handbags / shoes – but some of the digs were very similar.

The court proceedings themselves are written well – and you can imagine it being a TV drama – with the prosecutor playing up to the court room like an entertainer rather than necessarily telling the truth. I guess I was supporting Dr Sue in a ‘there but for the grace of God’ type way as a busy working Mum – whereas the prosecutor’s took great pleasure and pride in the fact this wife stayed at home and was a ‘proper’ mother. I found it really difficult to second guess what the result of the trial by jury would be – and didn’t get it right.

I also enjoyed seeing how Adelaide developed – finally facing feelings that she’d essentially squashed down by keeping busy with work for a decade.

Finally I enjoyed the final chapter – 2 years after the end of the court case – and seeing what had happened to Susannah, Adelaide and their family and friends in that time.

Overall a really good read. Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for my ARC in exchange for an honest review.

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