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Broken Fences by Camilla Noli

Australian writer Camilla Noli burst on to the literary scene with her smash-hit debut novel Still Waters. With Broken Fences, she deepens her exploration of the themes of obsession and maternal love gone wrong, making for a most readable and unsettling book.

The sinister story begins peacefully enough, as we meet Clair, a devoted stay-at-home wife and mother who has new neighbours, with a young daughter of their own, moving in next door. Clair does the friendly thing, taking over a chocolate cake by way of welcome, and very soon her two children Marty and Beccy have befriended the new girl next door, Chelsea.

Clair is a woman who dedicates every waking hour to creating a safe world for her children – she is careful about what they eat, who they spend time with, and she serves as president of the parents’ committee at their school. Clair herself had a troubled, vulnerable childhood, and she is determined that her children will never be exposed to danger as she was. As a result, her children do nothing without her knowledge and permission. It’s worth noting that Clair’s husband Peter, while present, is very much a supporting player – this is a family in which Mum rules the roost.

Once the scene has been set, the author asks the question, is Clair’s desire to maintain her iron control of her family realistic? As Chelsea prompts Marty and Beccy to make their own choices and Clair is no longer able to micromanage their lives, she becomes increasingly irrational and unstable.

Then something terrible happens, and Clair’s already tenuous grip on sanity starts to slip away completely, with potentially murderous results.

Having lapped up Camilla Noli’s first novel, I was eager to see if her second was just as compelling, and I’m pleased to report that she doesn’t disappoint. Broken Fences is the kind of book you read in a single sitting, and that stays with you for some time afterwards.

Clair gives the term ‘mother love’ a new meaning, and whatever fraughtness or tension you might have experienced with your own mother at times, spending a few hours in Clair’s company will likely make you want to send your mum some flowers and chocolates.

If you enjoy Broken Fences and want to know more about the author, check out her website, camillanoli.com, where you can find news and updates and a collection of her short stories.

This review was previously published on Coast.co.nz.

Reviewer: Stephanie Jones

Published by Hachette