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BOOK REVIEW: The Making of Christina by Meredith Jaffé

BOOK REVIEW: The Making of Christina by Meredith Jaffé

Pan Macmillan Australia
July 2017
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Natalie Salvo

Fiction/Modern & Contemporary Fiction

8/10

In her debut novel The Fence, Meredith Jaffé crafted a domestic drama about two feuding neighbours and a story that could have featured on a nightly current affairs show. Her second novel, The Making of Christina is also a family-based drama. But here, she ups the ante and explores some darker themes like abuse. Jaffé should be commended for writing a novel that is grounded in gritty realism but also handles the more delicate subject matter with a sensitive touch, something which is no mean feat.

This story is told from the perspective of a single mother and interior designer named Christina Clemente. She is a woman that found herself feeling rudderless and lacking in self-esteem after her divorce. So when a wealthy and charismatic client named Jackson Plummer seems romantically interested in her, it isn’t long before Christina is swept off of her feet.

But Jackson is living a double life. He is a successful businessman who is also married with children. Christina learns this but also seems undeterred. She continues to have an intense, clandestine affair with Jackson. He also has a positive influence on Christina’s young daughter Bianca, encouraging her with respect to school and extracurricular activities.

Credit where credit was due, Jackson had a lot to do with it. In the few short years they had been together, he’d been a big influence on Bianca. He really challenged her to be the best version of herself. Truth be told, he had the same positive effect on Christina. The only fly in the ointment was that he wasn’t around full-time, but Jackson had made it clear right from the start that leaving (his wife) Sarah whilst the kids were still at school was not an option so Christina had to live with it. Happiness had its price.

Bianca’s biological father could be flaky and irresponsible at times. So Jackson steps up and becomes a dotting surrogate Dad to her. In time, Jackson eventually decides to leave his wife Sarah and their children. He convinces Christina that she and Bianca should uproot themselves so that the three of them can go and live together in the country. Christina is initially reticent about this plan but she comes around to the idea. She subsequently throws herself into restoring Bartholomew’s Run, the sprawling farmhouse that is their new home. But Christina also notices that Bianca is changing and she can’t decide whether her daughter’s surliness is a normal part of growing up and becoming a teenager, or whether it’s a sign of something more sinister.

Christina wasn’t sure, but had Bianca flinched? She shook her head. The pair of them used to be the best of mates but the Bianca who couldn’t wait to go surfing or who cried with joy when Jackson bought her Sugar (the pony) was a distant memory. Bianca was so prickly now and not just with Jackson. She often gave Christina a look of such sullen animosity that Christina wondered what on earth she’d done wrong.

This novel is not a linear one. Instead Jaffé weaves together the story of Christina and Jackson’s unfolding love affair as well as chapters set in the present day, just before the Christmas holidays and in the aftermath of a court case. There is an interesting sub-plot involving the history of the farmhouse’s previous occupants and this provides parallels with what is taking place in Christina and her family’s lives.

No apology will ever be enough to make up for all the damage Jackson has done, for all that Sarah should have done, for all that Christina did not do. The past is a place she’d prefer never to revisit but it dogs her, refusing to let her go.

The Making of Christina shares some common elements with Lionel Shriver’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, as both writers examine the role and influence of the mother in the wake of a tragedy. Jaffé’s work is not a comfortable read but it is a compelling story because the reader can empathise with these relatable characters and judge and think about the circumstances with the benefit of hindsight.

The Making of Christina is a book that will leave you questioning how well you know those you’re acquainted with in your own life as well as those who are richly-drawn characters in this novel, especially as they reveal their true colours over time. It’s ultimately a thought-provoking and disturbing reminder of what can happen when your worst fears are confirmed and it will have you querying how complicit Christina might have been in enabling these circumstances to transpire in the first place. It’s a heavy cross but sometimes it’s also a necessary one to bear.

BOOK REVIEW: The Making of Christina by Meredith Jaffé

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