The Push by Ashley Audrain

Ashley Audrain, The Push (Michael Joseph: 2021, 9780241434550)

Blythe comes from a line of neglectful, abusive mothers. She seems to more or less have made peace with her background but it comes back to haunt her when her picture-perfect-obsessed husband decides they need a baby. She knows he expects her to be the perfect wife and mother, but when their firstborn comes along, Blythe is in for a rude awakening. Violet is a difficult baby and develops into a frighteningly calculating small child. Yes, fellow readers; this novel contains one of those horror film creepy children. I don’t want to give too much away, but the title is suggestive enough for us to know what’s coming.

This is one of those novels where you know what’s coming every step of the way. You can probably work out the whole story and the ending just a few chapters in. No Gillian Flynn twists and turns to be found here. I confess that the start of the novel troubled me. It’s overexplained, full of reminiscing and brimming with short dramatic sentences that are supposed to be meaningful: “I didn’t have much, but I had you” and “We thought we knew each other. And we thought we knew ourselves” (I mean… really?!) Thankfully, once the story gets going and we get to the present this stops, for the most part.

What the author does best is draw the reader into Blythe’s world – I thought her journey as a mother was convincing, and the family’s home life is described well and interestingly (I am a sucker for a domestic setting.) It’s a shame that the husband is so two-dimensional. That he is absent is sort of the point but when we do see him, he is quite one-note. He is forever rubbing his eyes or forehead – we get it; he is impatient and uninterested. But Violet is divine, and Blythe is a very sympathetic character.

Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed this novel. As a psychological thriller/drama, it’s entertaining, and though the plot wasn’t exactly unpredictable, I devoured it, eager to see my prophecies confirmed. I haven’t been reading much crime lately but I go through phases, and am slightly concerned by the amount of true crime documentaries I watch. I like crime stories and admit – this is a page-turner. My beef is not with the plot, or the characters, or the writing. I fell for the comparisons with We Need to Talk About Kevin. That’s why I pre-ordered this novel and got it the day it was released. It’s my own fault, really. The back cover quote goes further and tells us that The Push “will be embraced by SERIOUS book club fans of Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin” (caps mine, obvs.) What is a “serious book club fan”? Are they trying to trick us into thinking this is a ‘literary’ thriller? I don’t know, but I haven’t forgiven them yet.

The Push is a cool crime thriller and I would recommend it if that’s what you are looking to read. There’s a film to look forward to as well. I think this book will spark a lot of conversations about motherhood, gender roles and grief, which is a really good thing. And as for the lack of the ‘twists’ we have come to expect from the genre, the very ending is slightly ‘twisty’ because in the last few chapters I started thinking that what I wanted and thought would happen wouldn’t after all happen, but then it happened and I was left feeling very satisfied, and wishing there was a sequel and more Violet shenanigans to creep me out.

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