Select one of the keywords
Postcards from Berlin    by Margaret Leroy order for
Postcards from Berlin
by Margaret Leroy
Order:  USA  Can
Little, Brown & Co., 2003 (2003)

Read an Excerpt

* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The story opens on a traditional English family Christmas scene. There's the narrator, Catriona, her husband Richard, their eight-year-old daughter Daisy and Richard's daughter Sinead. They greet London carollers under a 'birch moon'. Cat, a wife and homemaker with an artistic talent, wants to hold this moment in a room which 'smells of cinnamon and warm wine, of the forest freshness of juniper, of the apple cake that is cooling in the kitchen, moist and sweet and crusted on top with sugar.'

The author carefully introduces a few hairline cracks in this perfect picture. We learn that Richard 'chose' a young Catriona, that there's something dark in her childhood, and that she has surprisingly low self esteem. She's vulnerable and needy and worries about her marriage that 'we've let our love leak away through a hundred little cracks'. Postcards begin to arrive from Berlin. Who's sending them and why do they disturb Cat so much? And what is causing the puzzling illness that creeps up on young Daisy?

Catriona consults a doctor and then a specialist. When they introduce the notion that it might be a psychological illness, Richard supports their approach. It becomes clear that they suspect a 'fabricated illness', Munchausen syndrome, in which a disturbed mother makes her child ill. Cat's only support comes from a new acquaintance, a journalist named Fergal, to whom she is attracted, and who likes her paintings.

Margaret Leroy stokes the suspense perfectly, so that the reader begins to wonder if Catriona is perpetrator or victim, just as she herself doubts every action that she takes. As events spiral towards the end result that she fears the most, she finds the courage to act. Despite an 'insect-crawl of all the old resentments across my skin', she achieves the forgiveness of past wrongs necessary to break the generational cycle that has damaged her, and is damaging her daughter.

The author builds her story beautifully and smoothly to a resolution that is highly satisfactory, redolent of healing and of hope. Postcards from Berlin is a brilliant read.

Note: Opinions expressed in reviews and articles on this site are those of the author(s) and not necessarily those of BookLoons.

Find more Contemporary books on our Shelves or in our book Reviews