Aussie Book Review: Rachael's Gift by Alexandra Cameron
“Rachael is a child prodigy, a talented artist whose maturity and eloquence is far beyond her fourteen years. She's also energetic, charming and beautiful, beguiling everyone around her. To her mother, Camille, she is perfect. But perfection requires work, as Camille knows all too well.
For Rachael has another extraordinary gift: a murky one that rears its head from time to time, threatening to unbalance all the family has been working towards. When Rachael accuses her art teacher of sexual misconduct, Camille and Rachael's father, Wolfe, are drawn into a complex web of secrets and lies that pits husband against wife, and has the power to destroy all of their lives.
Set in the contrasting worlds of Australia and Paris, Rachael's Gift is a mystery story of the heart, about a mother's uncompromising love for her daughter, and a father's quest for the truth.”
Do you treat a child prodigy different to any other child? Is compulsive lying in-bred or learned?
The story starts out with Rachael’s parents being called to the prestigious private school that she attends to be informed of an incident that has taken place for which Rachael has now opened a case of sexual misconduct against one of her male teachers.
Her father, Wolfe, is shocked. Camille, not as shocked. Why? She’s had other encounters with the principal without Wolfe’s knowledge and although she thinks her daughter is innocent, Wolfe has his doubts.
Whilst both parents love Rachael as any parent should, they are both very different people and this becomes apparent in the way they approach their parenting. Both think that Rachael is extremely special although Camille even more so because of her artistic talents. In Rachael she sees the artist that she could never be and hopes to eventually be able to get her into the famous Beaux-Champs art school in Paris.
When information regarding the allegations are leaked out of the school, after the principal promising that they won’t release any information, a scandal ensues. Taking Rachael, Camille flees Australia for her mother’s family in Paris, leaving Wolfe to find his way through the chaos of gossip, accusations and juvenile vandalism on his own.
The eclectic art community and Camille’s somewhat eccentric family in Paris are far-removed from the life they lived in Australia, but she decides that this could be Rachael’s only chance to gain entry into Beaux-Champs. It all proves to be a far bigger challenge than she ever anticipated when her own memories come into play, mother and daughter become rivals for attention and Wolfe arrives, intent on taking them home.
Rachael’s Gift is Alexandra Cameron’s debut novel and she should be commended for drawing so many emotions from this reviewer from incredulity, anger and distress at the thought that a teenager can be so opportunistic and disrespectful, contempt for Camille’s own behaviour, to sympathy for the loving and protective (albeit rather laid-back) father who only wants what is best for his daughter but may not get the happy ending he is looking for.
Told in flashbacks by each parent, the events which have brought them to this point are slowly revealed. Vignettes of a lying, indulged, petulant and spoilt fourteen year old only child, who knows exactly how to manipulate her parents, are given and then somewhat overlaid by those of the girl that Camille used to be, making it evident that the old saying “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” is true. There is also a lot that Camille should be answering for.
I’ve had a few weeks to mull over this novel as I honestly didn’t know how to interpret it and, in actual fact, didn’t know if I was even going to write a review, perhaps because of my lack of knowledge on personality disorders. Thankfully I’ve come to my senses, even though the content left me slightly unsettled, due to the fact that the actions of both mother and daughter went against every moral fibre in my body.
Just as my mother instilled good values in me, so, too, have I instilled in my children good morals, expanding on the fact that lying and stealing are two things I will not tolerate, so to be confronted by the picture Alexandra paints of a narcissistic and somewhat hedonistic child with so much talent had me devastated. Whilst it’s been a long time since I went through the teenage years, some of my memories are of a fairly rebellious teenager trying to find her place in the world - thankfully I have grown up and, in hindsight, seen the error of my ways. Rachael’s life, however, is far more complex than mine ever was, so Alexandra made me want to decipher what made her tick – as the mother of an almost teenage daughter myself, one never knows what to expect with all those hormones raging inside their bodies.
Alexandra also raises many contemporary issues in this novel such as social media matters, promiscuity, bullying, drugs and infidelity whilst using a dislocated family to get her message across and I can already see the parents out there shaking their heads in dismay when they read this novel.
Ultimately, this is a fascinating debut about manipulation and how easy it is to become entangled in a web of lies, one that I'm sure will raise many questions in both book clubs and the wider reading community – it starts with just one lie! Where do you draw the line?
I wish to thank Pan Macmillan Australia for providing me with a hard copy of this novel.
A Little About the Author
She has spent years traversing the globe, living in between her hometown of Sydney and London, via Paris and Provence.
Her BA in Film and French, and a background in film and TV production / development helped as research for the novel. As a freelance writer, she studied novel-writing at City University in London.
Alex was also mentored by author Jill Dawson.