REVIEW: Picture of Innocence, T J Stimson

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

My name is Lydia. I’m 12 years old. I’m not an evil person, but I did something bad. My name is Maddie. I’d never hurt my son. But can I be sure if I don’t remember?
With three children under ten, Maddie is struggling. On the outside, she’s a happy young mother, running a charity as well as a household. But inside, she’s exhausted. She knows she’s lucky to have to have a support network around her. Not just her loving husband, but her family and friends too. But is Maddie putting her trust in the right people? Because when tragedy strikes, she is certain someone has hurt her child – and everyone is a suspect, including Maddie herself… The women in this book are about to discover that looks can be deceiving… because anyone is capable of terrible things. Even the most innocent, even you. This is the story of every mother's worst fear. But it's not a story you know... and nothing is what it seems.

Truly good literature, and by that, I mean the best of the very best, utilises its characters and plot-points to deftly explore wider societal themes. Things like personal identity, the institution of marriage, the politics of race and gender, or even the nature of the human consciousness - aspects of the human experience that transcend boundaries; ones that mean and say more than just Polly meeting and falling in love with Paul.
I mean, yeah, she is going to do that and have a great time doing it, but what is the author saying by having them fall in love in this particular way? We often step back from a book and ask what it was saying and usually, if we think upon the question long enough, our answer relates to themes far more universal than one would first assume.
I, for one, have been obsessed with the theory of nature vs. nurture (AKA is a person born evil, or does something in society make them that way?) since being rather young myself. I am a child of the United Kingdom and, although it happened two years before I was even born, the story of James Bulger has appeared over and over again in the background of my life.
That is why, as soon as I heard about Picture of Innocence, I knew that I needed to read it: children killing children is a topic that becomes more fascinating, and more horrifying, the younger the child gets. Society has had less time to get their claws in, after-all, and that causes all of the sociology vs. psychology bombs to go off in my brain.
But, the issue with this novel is that T.J. Stimson failed to properly construct the characters and the plot-points around the central ideas of the novel. Instead, Picture of Innocence felt like a thinly-veiled dissertation on the topic of nature vs. nurture, as opposed to a deft, complex and nuanced exploration. The characters were not vehicles to allow for greater understanding, they were cardboard cut-outs who kept stepping aside and taking a backseat to allow for the author’s page-long musings on the nature of evil.
And, honestly, I just wish T.J. Stimson would have written a non-fiction book on the topic first; in an attempt, at least, to get some of the more overt rumination out of their head before sitting down and writing this one.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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