A woman walks into a hospital, places a baby into a shopping bag, walks outside and gives it a gentle hug before placing it inside her car.
So goes the prologue of this heartbreaking story. But the first chapter takes us right back to the beginning.
Med Atley has lived in Forster, NSW, his whole life. He marries Pat and they raise two children together but by the time the third (Donna-Faye, made to bear the unfortunate nickname, Fat) comes along, Pat has had enough. She disappears, in search of a more exciting life away from the family home.
Med is left to raise his youngest daughter alone and is devastated when, at the tender age of sixteen, she leaves to live with a man not just ten years her senior, but a man who holds a serious criminal history.
The ensuing events include the birth of a baby, a court case and a family trying to do the right thing in the toughest of circumstances.
To say more than that would be to take away from readers the enjoyment of this book: the page-turning intrigue, the wonder of how each incident will intertwine to bring us to the climactic conclusion.
Overington, an award-winning journalist, now has two novels to her name. Her first, Ghost Child (Bantam, 2009) was chilling and suspenseful, dealing with the issue of parents harming their own children. I Came to Say Goodbye follows similar themes, but is even more harrowing.
Med Atley, the father and grandfather of the main characters, narrates most of the story in the form of a letter to a judge. His likeable manner and personal way of telling the whole sorry saga of this family are enough to hook the reader. This is not someone we want to leave; we need to stay with this man as he pours his heart out.
There were some points I wondered if an entire book filled with this man’s informal lingo would become tired or difficult to read, but it never did. The plot and the narrative work perfectly together: when one is slowing, the other is too gripping to allow the book to be closed.
Overington’s knack for observing the small things in life makes the reader feel as though they are right at Med’s side. She captures a realistic and believable scenario that is like reading between the lines of a newspaper article. We’ve all been there: hearing a heartbreaking story on television and reading the details in the newspapers, all the time wondering, How did that family reach this point? How could the parent do that to their child? How do the other members of the family feel? Overington explores these questions and guides us through the situation as it spirals out of control.
I Came to Say Goodbye is a gripping, eye-opening tale – one of my favourite books this year.