This book is beautiful. Doughty manages to be literary: "the groceries had decided to creep out in their own hesitant fashion and observe their new environment", profound in her analysis of human emotions and reactions and thoughts: "I think how there is always a way we can justify ourselves to ourselves, make ourselves moral, heroic even...", deal with a potentially trite topic (grieving mother of young child), and simultaneously craft a mystery with elements of the whodunit.
Ultimately this is a psychological exploration of Laura's grief. Her experience through the death of Betty and her retrospective reaction to David's earlier abandonment. We see a minor breakdown when she realizes that David is leaving, but not until Betty dies does Laura really loose touch with reality. It is only after she enacts her revenge on both Mr. A and Chloe that Laura is able to return to a "normal" life.
I found her character believable, raw, and very real. I loved lots of Doughty's prose:
her description of Laura's insecurity and competitiveness, both with Chloe and over Toni: "I want to be liked by her, I am not sure why. I want her to like me more than all the other bereaved relatives she has dealt with. I feel competitive towards them."
her description of Rees's (and any small child's) needs: "He will come running out any minute, a demand on his lips. He usually says, 'I'm hungry', when he means, 'I want attention,' but the very act of making the demand convinces him it is hunger he feels, and he is furious when attention is all he gets."
her description of our inability recognize other people as real sometimes: "we feel when we realize that someone we have hated is a person rather than a thing, corporeal and complex."
her description of the complexities involved in sexual relations: "that is the first time I have fucked someone I haven't liked--how I had never understood before that it was possible, even easy, to do it for reasons that had little or nothing to do with the person you were doing it with, and how it feels as not-good afterward as I always suspected but that a cold, hard part of me is able to detach myself enough to feel interested that I have tried the experiment. This is how men fuck, sometimes, I think, out of bitterness and need and a lust for control--all sorts of things that have so little to do with desire."
I particularly liked that Laura refuses to call Betty dead until after she has had the altercation on the cliff with Mr. A's family. It is not until after she has felt the power of being threatening herself that she is able to face that Betty is dead (instead of "gone" or "taken from her").
I also loved the notes. About halfway through I wondered if Chloe might not be responsible for the notes and phone calls but that she had a deranged twin or something. There is resolution to this at the end when we meet Edith and then when Laura receives yet another note, but throughout the novel it is unclear if Chloe is the one harassing Laura.
I was not sure how I felt about Laura's evening with Mr. A. It was simultaneously very believable and unnerving and felt a bit over the top.
I liked the way that the novel worked backwards and forwards from the moment that Laura was told that Betty was dead and that we felt (even before the summary at the end: "Betty's death stopped time. The line dissolved and life became a point, fixed on the day that Betty died.") that everything in Laura's world had become a piece of what led up to the moment of her death or an effect of that moment.
Overall it was entrancing and beautifully written.