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Madeleine by Kate McCann

The McCann family once was ordinary. Kate and Gerry, a Liverpudlian GP and Scottish cardiologist respectively, had a thriving young family and promising careers which had taken them far and wide – from New Zealand, where their relationship evolved from friendship to romance, to Amsterdam, where Gerry advanced his training for a year while Kate cared for their yearned-for firstborn child.

The only blight on their married life had been infertility, which they conquered through the use of IVF. Three healthy children were born: Madeleine, and 20 months later, the twins Sean and Amelie.

It was in May 2007 that the McCanns were whisked from anonymity to international fame and notoriety, when Madeleine was taken from her bed as her parents and their friends ate dinner at a tapas restaurant within the Portuguese resort at which they were holidaying.

Madeleine is Kate McCann’s account of what happened that night, what led up to it (canvassed in brief preliminary chapters covering her early life and marriage to Gerry) and, exhaustively, the period since she last saw her daughter, with particular focus on 2007 and what she calls the “worst year”, 2008, when she and Gerry were named arguido (suspects) by the Portuguese police – who, few readers will not conclude, were woefully inept at best and corrupt at worst.

She recounts the days at the resort before the abduction, and how the group of friends they were with, all of whom had young children, took turns checking on their sleeping offspring during uneventful dinners in the preceding evenings. She remembers comments from Madeleine and other apparently innocuous details that in hindsight may indicate that someone was watching the family and might have entered the children’s room before the night she was taken.

She addresses the criticisms of police and the public; that the McCanns neglected their children by leaving them alone, and that they know more about what happened to their daughter than they have let on. Reading Madeleine, it is impossible to merit any of these misgivings.

As Kate McCann explains, she was not without qualms in telling the story for the first time from her family’s perspective. In particular, she feared that it would unduly expose the twins. In the end, she says, she hopes the book will help prove to her younger children that their parents did everything possible to find their sister, and indeed, the fourth-anniversary timing of publication is designed to trigger another round of publicity and raises funds for the continuing search.

Even for a non-parent, Madeleine makes for inordinately painful reading (and those with children should be warned). It is troubling not only for its well-known horror, but for the clarity with which McCann describes events and their effects on her family, thanks in part to the detailed diary she began keeping shortly after the abduction on the suggestion of a former intelligence officer.

(Later in the book, describing the leaking of the same diary to a tabloid, her words have the air of a resigned shrug: as indignities and betrayals go, it is far from the worst she has received from authority figures.)

Madeleine is a powerful portrait of grief, loss and hope, and a story that leaves you hoping for something greater than the subject’s safe return: that every child should have parents like hers.

Previously reviewed on Coast FM

Reviewer: Stephanie Jones


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