Aussie Book Review: Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp
“A taut, emotional thriller about biology, ownership and love.
Catriona and James are desperate for children, and embark on an IVF program. After a gruelling round of treatments, Catriona finally falls pregnant, and they donate their remaining embryo anonymously.
Diana and Liam are on a waiting list to receive an embryo. Sooner than expected, they are thrilled to discover one is available.
After a difficult pregnancy, Catriona gives birth to Sebastian. But severe postnatal depression affects her badly, and quickly turns into deadly psychosis. For her protection and her baby’s, she’s admitted into psychiatric care. When she comes home, she again struggles to bond with her baby, but gradually life finds its own rhythm.
Meanwhile, Diana has given birth to a beautiful little boy, Noah. But when he is two months old Noah is abducted … and Diana and Liam’s nightmare begins.
Where is Noah?”
What would you do if your last attempt at IVF was successful but you still had a frozen embryo or two? Would you dispose of them? Would you keep them frozen indefinitely? Or would you donate them to someone who is unable to conceive naturally, knowing that somewhere out there, your own child could have siblings? An easy decision? Or one that will be the toughest you’ve ever made?
This is the minefield that Amanda Ortlepp traverses in Claiming Noah, her debut novel, as she brings us a story about Assisted Reproductive Technology in which a couple Catriona and James, after successfully falling pregnant on their third attempt, anonymously donate their last remaining embryo.
The lucky couple is Diana and Liam who have been placed on a waiting list.
When I first read the blurb of this novel, I was intrigued because I had previously read a novel by Kylie Ladd with a similar subject at its core. Like Kylie, Amanda doesn’t approach this novel from a medical perspective but rather humanises it by telling it from the alternating perspectives of Catriona and Diana giving us a compelling and emotional story spotlighting the range of issues these two women are faced with when Catriona, suffering with post-puerperal psychosis, is admitted to a clinic; the kidnapping of Noah whilst Diana is out shopping; and the ensuing fallout that occurs in both their lives and relationships.
Although I felt slightly adrift from these characters in the first part of the book where I found Amanda’s writing to be almost “matter-of-fact” and slightly clunky, once I hit the halfway mark something changed and I started to fall into a highly emotional world where my allegiances swung first from one character to the other and back again.
I experienced not only their internal conflict but also the unbearable emotional responses of these two distinctly dissimilar women who, by the end of the novel, had become two somewhat different people to those we meet at the beginning. They are complex, flawed and conflicted while, on the other hand I struggled to have even one iota of empathy for the situations that James and Liam found themselves in because of the things they did (or didn’t do). Liam was the worst, coming across as cold and superficial in his treatment of Diana as he showed no emotional support, consideration or sympathy for her feelings. But then again, we don’t get a glimpse into their viewpoints so, as the reader, I was unable to understand their thought processes and motives.
Even as it raises awareness of mental illness and the importance of taking action before losing control, Claiming Noah is an insightful look at two couples struggling with the challenges that IVF has brought them and I admire Amanda for invoking such strong feelings within me as I was taken on a trip into the turmoil that must confront any mother who finds themselves in this position.
Sad but ultimately hopeful, this is a story about guilt, courage and compassion with an unforgettable and thought-provoking evocation of family and genetics that will tug at your heartstrings as you contemplate what it really means to be a mother.
As well as being an excellent selection for book clubs, whose members will have a field day dissecting each aspect, fans of both Dawn Barker and Kylie Ladd will thoroughly enjoy it.
I wish to thank Simon & Schuster Australia for providing me with an eGalley proof for review.
About the Author
Amanda Ortlepp always wanted to be a writer, but it took thirty years and a decade of working in marketing and communication roles before she started writing her first book. That story was abandoned after a few months because Amanda stumbled across the topic of embryo donation and quickly became fascinated by it. She started writing a new book, which eventually became Claiming Noah. It is set in the inner west of Sydney, where Amanda lives and works.
Amanda is currently working on her second novel, set on the remote Eyre Peninsula in South Australia where her father grew up and where many other members of her family have lived.