Using a split narrative The Playdate tells the story of three neighbours – Callie, Suzy, and Debs. Callie is a single mum, desperate to get back to work and rediscover herself, Suzy is a stay-at-home mum with a distant, secretive husband. Debs is new to their North London street and is wracked with anxiety and seeming distaste for others. Knowing that the premise of the book is trusting people to look after your child and that trust being abused makes the reader second guess Callie's relationship with Suzy from the off. Debs is built up in such a way as to seem she shouldn’t be left with children but there’s always a nagging doubt that this could be too obvious. When it becomes clear that Suzy is desperate for a girl of her own and that her husband Jez is unlikely to provide her with one, suspicion grows.
From the start Callie gives the impression of guilt, of needing to tell Suzy something. This is a common occurrence throughout as all three make it clear they have a secret. To me this felt a little over-done and by the time all was revealed I did not find myself to be particularly interested. There are attempts to give the protagonists complex characters, but they seem a little flat. Debs probably has the most engaging story and the most convincingly constructed psychology. I found the revelation of her backstory the most affecting.
Callie does not make for a likeable centre for the story. Her desire to separate herself from Suzy, but only at her own convenience, is selfish, as is her short-sightedness when it comes to awareness of her friend’s needs. Her character is most interesting when raising issues of guilt in relation to obligations to her daughter Rae. She struggles with conflicted feelings about going back to work. Working increases her sense of self-worth but trying to juggle motherhood and a working life raises a number of practical and emotional issues – this I’m sure is a dilemma many could relate to.
Suzy’s story allows the reader to feel for her most in Jez’s rejection of her and her loneliness. Her longing for her home country is also sensitively portrayed and adds depth to her character. Generally however her characterization feels a little exaggerated and although she does elicit some sympathy she does not prove to be a particularly memorable character.
The Playdate is an easy read and touches on some interesting topics. There is a certain sense of the naivety of a first novel and somewhat too obvious attempts to build suspense which fall somewhat flat. The novel would benefit from more trust in the reader to pick up on subtleties. However, the sense of place is well conceived and there are some nicely written passages. Overall a decent debut for an author with obvious potential.