Gen is mourning her stillborn daughter, Beth, eight years on. As her husband, Art, has busied himself as partner in a finance company, with appearances in a business-focused TV show and taking up an opportunity to become a member of a business advisory panel to the Prime Minister’s office. Gen has failed to write another novel and does a few hours of creative writing teaching. Several failed IVF attempts have left Gen in a limbo, aware her friends think it’s time she moved on but unable to move on. It’s not spelt out whether the IVF is used because Gen found herself unable to get pregnant or if she and her husband are using IVF to prevent another baby suffering the same genetic anomaly that cause Beth’s stillbirth.
One day a woman turns up on Gen’s doorstep and tells her Beth is still alive. Gen’s immediate reaction is to dismiss the woman as a crank, however, she decides to hear her out. The woman claims to be a sister of one of the nurses in attendance when Beth was born by Caesarean section after she stopped moving in the womb and midwives failed to find a heartbeat. Gen was under anaesthetic so doesn’t know who was or wasn’t in attendance. Art was present but never talks about it. The woman tells Gen that her sister, the nurse, became seriously ill and wanted to make a confession before she died. That confession was that Beth was born alive. Gen assumes the woman wants money and dismisses her.
But she can’t dismiss the news that Beth might be alive so easily. Gen finds turning detective to try and collaborate the stranger’s story isn’t easy. The paperwork relating to her hospital stay and Beth’s birth are kept in Art’s locked cabinet, her first attempt to contact the consultant who performed her Caesarean fails as the receptionist can’t find him and the phone number given to her by the stranger is unobtainable. Gen’s dithering could easily stall the reader’s interest were it not for Sophie McKenzie’s skill in creating characters such as the charming but mysterious Lorcan Byrne who knew Art before he met Gen.
Lorcan becomes an ally. Unlike her husband and her best friend who think it’s time Gen moved on and accepted Beth’s death, Lorcan agrees to help her. However when Gen uncovers evidence that her best friend knows more than she’s admitted and that her husband may have hidden the truth from her, Gen starts to query who she can trust. Could she be allowing her hope that Beth’s still alive to distort what evidence she’s found so far? Is Lorcan helping her understand what happened or encouraging her to view her husband as an enemy as revenge for something that happened in the past? She soon discovers trust is a product of mutual benefit: who will help her depends on whether it’s in their best interests to do so. In trying to trace what happened to Beth, she uncovers a more shocking family secret between Art and his half sister Morgan.
In “Close My Eyes” Sophie McKenzie explores the long term after-effects of the discovery of secrets families hide. What makes some victims of abuse break the cycle of abuse but others go on to perpetrate more abuse? What happens when you damage the bond between a mother and child? Is it ever right to exclude a father from his child’s life? Is the bond between a biological mother and child stronger than that between an adoptive mother and child? Sophie McKenzie doesn’t judge. Readers follow Gen’s story but get to see Art’s story, Lorcan’s story and Morgan’s story with space to draw their own conclusions. It’s worth sticking through the stagnation of Art’s birthday party as the pace and story picks up and Sophie McKenzie deftly weaves the threads of several storylines together with a surprising twist.
By Emma Lee