This is a very difficult book to review. Due in part that of my own admission that I read a book about incest and had feelings of compassion. I am at war with myself with how to write this review but just to spread the cards out, I will make some things clear from the start:
- It's a good 3.5 star plus read.
- I admire the author's ability to disaggregate such a taboo subject - consensual sibling incest. I will also admit that I am deeply disturbed by her ability to do so.
- I liked the book quite a bit yet I come short of recommending it.
Lochen and Maya are the oldest siblings in a tattered home. Lochen is the oldest at nearly 18, Maya is 13 months younger. The younger siblings are 13, 8, and 5. The parents divorced, Dad remarried and moved to Australia, Mom is a raging alcoholic in the middle of a midlife crisis and disappears for weeks at a time. Lochen and Maya are left to hold down the fort - housework, homework, childcare, shopping, cooking, cleaning, bedtime routines. In the midst of this, 13 year old Kit is rebellious, angry and hurt, lashing out at everybody.
Lochen and Maya take the role of parenting and trying to keep social services out of the picture. They slip into the shoes of a married couple with the occasional showing of the exasperating mother who is still tasked with paying for her children that she wants to forget. The two children develop a close friendship and symbiosis. Both are caretakers by nature and both are driven (due to so much loss) to keeping the family together. The relationship becomes closer and closer until they are completely in love with each other.
The author flips from Lochen's and Maya's POV in alternating chapters. Occasionally, I was confused and had to revisit the chapter POV but overall I thought this worked well. Maya is an open-minded girl who loves her siblings. That pretty much sums her up. She's not terribly interesting. Lochen however, is far, far too angst-y. Lochen suffers from panic attacks and anxiety. He struggles with guilt in all aspects of his life. Everything is his fault. Everything is his responsibility. Everything falls squarely on his shoulders. While he is a much better parent to his three younger siblings than I am to my own children, he is also painfully socially backward. But handsome. And smart. Yay.
So the reader gets into both minds as the relationship develops. This is very well done and I found myself feeling a lot of compassion and empathy for both protagonists. So much so that I am highly disturbed by the events that lead up to the ultimate conflict.
Lochen is eventually taken into police custody. By this time, I was completely invested in his and Maya's well being and devastatingly distraught by his arrest and the way he is treated. Painfully, we are taken through the booking process, the feelings of exposure, the interview, and the exhaustion of having to lay out the intimate details of a relationship so private and intimate. The reader feels the looks of contempt and disgust by others as Lochen is forced to adapt the new title as a sex offender, rapist, and having committed incest with his sister. I felt indignant even if Lochen did not.
**END OF SPOILERS**
What I liked:
- The way the author creates a credible story where consensual incest could develop.
- Minor characters that drove the story - the children.
- Even though I tired of it, Lochen's fragility needed to be apparent by getting inside his anxious mind.
What I didn't like:
- The sexual detail. I didn't want to know how it felt to touch your brother there.
- So much of the story was the internal dialogue both protagonists were having. Lochen was kind of like a girl. Had a conscience, stalking off, needy, oh-so-needy.
- The resolution. In fact, here goes my diatribe -
The setting is London so the laws are different, I assume, than in the U.S. Although incest, even consensual, is still pretty much frowned upon. Actually, without taking into account the characters in this book, it's shocking and gross.
That said, I had a couple of students a few years ago who were in a brother/sister incestuous relationship. It was pretty horrible when this fact came to light and devastated the parents deeply. I'm pretty sure neither the brother or the sister EVER returned to their small town, although I don't know that for fact. The mother made it clear to me that the relationship was consensual and, in fact, the younger sister was the instigator. The brother was immediately sent to a wilderness camp and ordered to have no contact with his sister. The sister, knowing she was guilty, threw herself into social services and a foster home because she couldn't face her parents disappointment.
Because of my experience with this subject, I thought the ending was on the extreme side. And that's where I will leave it.