31/08/2007

Perfect Match (by Jodi Picoult)

I haven't read any of Jodi Picoult's books before. For some reason, I had her associated with 'chick-lit' - I don't know why. Perhaps it's the covers of the books, or perhaps her name reminds me of someone who does write in this genre. However I read a couple of excellent reviews of one of her other books, and was intrigued. I trawled Amazon UK for reviews of her books, and added a couple of them to my wishlist.

A relative gave me 'Perfect Match' for my birthday, and it's taken me over four months to pick it up to read. By then I had quite forgotten what it was about, and wasn't expecting too much. I read the first few pages and thought it was going to be heavy-going. It features Nina Frost, a lawyer who specialises in prosecutions in the USA. She's efficient, and evidently does her job well, but there's a sense in which she has to stand back from the people she is working with.

Nina specialises in child abuse allegations, and finds the system frustrating; too often the children concerned are very young, and either they are unable to testify in court, or they become frightened or upset at having to relive their ordeals. The book was written in 2002, so it's possible that the system has changed since then - I had understood that children who had to testify were allowed to do so via video camera links, rather than being in court having to face the person alleged who hurt them.

However, I'm sure the system was valid at the time, since the book is meticulously researched. So much so that I would have thought Jodi Picoult herself was a lawyer who specialised in these cases. It's only in the introduction, and some notes at the end, that she reveals how much of the book was based on research. I learned a huge amount about the legal system in America during the course of this book, and about DNA too.

The story gets going fairly quickly, when Nina's five-year-old son stops talking and starts behaving aggressively at his preschool. It doesn't take long before it's discovered that he has been molested, but as he's not speaking it's impossible to find out how it happened at first.

The book picks up pace here, and due to a very clever introductory section to the book, I knew that Nina was going to do something very shocking in retribution when the case came to court. Sure enough, this happens about half-way through the book. Afterwards, she herself has to stand trial, and finds the legal system rather different when she's having to be defended for a crime which she committed.

That's only the barest bones of the plot - anything else would give away something important. The story is mainly about Nina; about the constant balancing act between mother and attorney; about who she can trust; about whether it's possible for something illegal to be right; about motives for crimes; about whether doing something wrong can in fact make life easier for others, or whether it simply makes it worse.

It was very well-written in a style that could have been confusing, but somehow wasn't. There are rapid changes of viewpoint - Nina writes in the first person, but we also see into her husband's mind, and that of some of her friends and colleagues, and of her son Nathaniel. These viewpoint switches are indicated by simple breaks in the text, and work very well. The whole book is written in the present tense, too. This can be annoying in some author's hands, but Jodi Picoult manages it to perfection.

The style and controversial subject matter reminded me slightly of Libby Purves' novels, but with more depth. There was much to think about in this novel, which I'm sure will come back to me in days to come.

I am looking forward to reading more by this author in future! Highly recommended.

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