Opening sentence: “DS Joanna Harper stood on the viaduct with the other police officers.”
I do love a story based around old myths, tales or legends so was very intrigued when I discovered Little Darlings is just that. I didn’t know much about the myth that this book explores: Changelings. It turns out there is much folklore about the idea of babies being stolen or switched just after birth. So your baby might physically look the same but actually have the soul of another baby, or be switched for a completely different baby – a fairy or some other creature. Pretty sinister, right? Quite a few of the chapters open with a selection of these tales to really help this theme cement in your mind and show just how creepy they are. An example: ‘The Nickert is a small gray person that lives in the water and has a great desire for human children. If they have not yet been baptised, he will steal them, leaving his own children in their place.’
These were the stories that inspired Melanie Golding to write this book and I have to say, she takes the mythology and weaves a brilliant contemporary tale. Lauren Tranter gives birth to twin boys, Morgan and Riley, but while recovering from the birth in hospital she is convinced that a woman has sneaked onto the maternity ward and is trying to swap her babies with Lauren’s. Once she leaves hospital, her fears don’t dissipate and things really ramp up when her babies are abducted.
Alongside Lauren, we have another lead female character, DS Joanna Harper; the detective working on Lauren’s baby abduction case. She is strong, likeable character who is the perfect reliable narrator contrast to Lauren’s unreliable one. This dual point-of-view while the plot reveals itself really keeps things exciting.
I often read Little Darlings (digitally on my phone) while rocking my baby to sleep in the evenings, which made the whole topic of babies being switched or stolen even more visceral, as it really is an indescribable fear. I was very impressed by how this novel captures the struggles of early motherhood – from the simple things of trying to pack a nappy bag and get babies ready to go for a walk to the massive, massive psychological change you go through when you become a mother. You need so much help and support in those early weeks, so it didn’t help matters that Lauren’s husband was basically a dick. His self-involved, churlish behaviour actually made me very angry and I felt for Lauren so much, ‘He didn’t care about her. He only cared about himself. Her heart sank, a dinghy with a bullet hole, and the boys felt it.’ Lauren is under a lot of pressure and what Little Darlings does so superbly is continuously ask the question: Is Lauren suffering from very real and scary postpartum psychosis or is something / someone really intent on stealing her babies?
Little Darlings is Melanie Golding’s debut novel and is a sharp, unsettling, creepy tale that had me questioning what was real or not the whole way through thanks to its clever structure and execution. It’s published in May 2019 and I highly recommend getting your hands on a copy!