The Dark Side by Danielle Steel: searingly honest and psychologically astute, allowing readers a glimpse into a dangerously damaged and troubled mind - book review -

The Dark Side
The Dark Side
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After her childhood was scarred by the tragic death of her sister, Zoe Morgan is determined to jealously guard her own daughter’s precious early years.

After her childhood was scarred by the tragic death of her sister, Zoe Morgan is determined to jealously guard her own daughter’s precious early years.

But can a mother’s love be too powerful… and when does over-zealous care turn to serious harm?

Danielle Steel, one of the world’s most popular authors, turns her considerable talents to a gripping and haunting tale featuring a dark and disturbing side of motherhood that is rarely talked about.

The innocence of a child’s formative years jostles chillingly with the terrifying reality of a mother whose boundaries of parental protection tip into a well of unfathomable harm. The result is a harrowing story full of menace, white-knuckle psychological tension, and a twisted intensity that will have readers turning the pages with shaking hands and a sinking heart.

Zoe Morgan and her younger sister Rose were always chalk and cheese siblings… Zoe, ‘long and angular,’ and Rose, round, small and smiling with ‘no sharp edges.’ But aged just three, Rose was diagnosed with leukaemia and life for both girls changed forever.

Almost overnight, Zoe’s idyllic childhood in San Francisco became a nightmare as her family watched Rose ‘slip away inch by inch’ over the next four years. Zoe witnessed how her parents dedicated themselves completely to Rose’s final days and when the end came, they were too ‘stunned and broken’ to deal with Zoe’s grief as well as their own.

The pressures of caring for a dying child proved too much and her parents divorced, leaving Zoe to care for herself both physically and emotionally.

As a young woman, Zoe sets the bar high for herself, giving up her training at medical school to pursue a career in a New York charity shelter for abused children where her deep compassion for disadvantaged youngsters finds a focus.

And when she marries caring child advocacy attorney, Austin Roberts, and has her own daughter, Jaime, Zoe is determined to be a perfect mother to the child who has filled ‘the aching void in her life without Rose.’

But, haunted by ghosts of the past and increasingly obsessed with rigid child-rearing theories, Zoe’s long-dormant scars begin to pull her to the edge of an abyss which becomes more sinister and more deadly by the day…

The Dark Side is not an easy read… it’s a story full of emotional and domestic upheaval, mental disturbance, and events that are hard to contemplate, but it is also searingly honest and psychologically astute, allowing readers a glimpse into a dangerously damaged and troubled mind.

Zoe’s journey from a childhood marred and manipulated by extreme grief to an adulthood in which the past becomes the catalyst for catastrophe is exquisitely observed by a writer perfectly attuned to human vulnerabilities.

Devastating illnesses of both body and mind, terrible tragedies, and the malign influence of painful, unexpressed memories all play major roles but so too do the eternal strengths of love and shared experience, making this one of the best novels yet from a world-class storyteller.

(Macmillan, hardback, £18.99)