Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell

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Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Ruth Ng
Reviewed by Ruth Ng
Summary: Beautifully written, this is a story that is funny and moving, disturbing and uplifting. I found it incredibly engaging and enjoyed it from start to finish.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: July 2013
Publisher: William Heinemann
External links: Author's website
ISBN: 978-0434022557

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Did you listen at doors when you were little? Did you hang from the banisters, trying to hear what was going on in the grown up world when you'd been banished to your room? In this story, eleven year old Michael finds out most of his information by listening. He's adept at creeping around and learning snippets of information, local gossip and tidbits of family dynamics. But one night, when his mum comes home screaming and covered in blood the secrets that Michael becomes privvy too are far more disturbing than what Tricia down the road has been getting up to.

Although Michael is told that his mother saw a flasher in the woods and tripped and fell, the reader is able to infer from what's going on that actually she has been brutally raped. Michael's mum refuses to tell anyone what has happened, even allowing for neighbours and friends to believe that perhaps her husband has been physically abusive to her, because she is so afraid of what people will say and that they will blame her for what has happened. Although they try to shield Michael from the truth of the attack it is only a matter of time before he realises what actually happened, and O'Donnell sensitively portrays Michael's response to his mother's rape and the difficulties he begins to experience in his relationship with her because of the confusion over the rape.

The story progresses dealing with secrets and lies, with further attacks in the town they live in and increasing pressures on Michael's mother to go to the police. And yet, in amongst all the high tension drama, there are still lighter family moments and the innocent problems that eleven year old boys face in their day to day lives. I think it can be very hard to convincingly maintain a child's narrative voice through a novel. It works brilliantly in Room by Emma Donoghue for example, and I also felt that Michael's voice rang true through this story. He's a sweet boy, and I felt very quickly drawn into his family life.

The story is set in Scotland in the 1980's, so there's a sense of nostalgia to the writing. I also liked the discussion that's raised about women and violence and the difficulties of reporting an attack, and then the further issues about actually trying to get a conviction. Michael's mother's story is moving, and I felt torn between understanding her reluctance to talk about the rape and yet also desperate for her to find the courage to report it to perhaps be able to save others from also being attacked.

I liked that this had multiple flavours, so sometimes it's a family saga, sometimes it's a coming of age novel and sometimes it's crime. Michael is endearing, the story is funny and sad and, ultimately, all about love so I found it uplifting to read, in spite of the subject matter. Definitely worth a read."

Another child narrator that works well in a story and that you might want to try is Room by Emma Donoghue. It's more disturbing, I think, but still a great read.

Buy Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell at

Buy Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Closed Doors by Lisa O'Donnell at


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