When Rose hears that her childhood friend has been widowed, she doesn't hesitate in inviting Polly and her children to stay. What else could she do? But Rose's husband Gareth isn't too happy about this. He's never liked Polly. She gives him the creeps. And certainly, Polly is not your normal grieving widow. She's never quite been normal, a former indie musician, with a history of drugs, eating disorders and other demons that have never quite gone away. But that's just Polly.
But the longer Polly stays under Rose's room, the more Rose feels she is losing her family. Her neatly ordered home and life starts falling to pieces. Could her old friend have anything to do with this?
Cuckoo is not the first book I've read where a newcomer to the household spreads an unhealthy influence, and seems to be gradually weaseling her way into the wife's position. Candia McWilliam's A Little Stranger works on similar themes, although in that case it was the nanny. Araminta Hall's Everything And Nothing looks like another version of the same story, but I haven't actually read that one and am only going by the cover blurbs.
I didn't automatically like any of the main characters, with the exception of Anna, Rose's elder daughter (and I suppose Flossie the baby.) Still, they are real characters, with flaws and struggles, dark secrets in the past, bad tempers, maybe too much drinking and smoking. Still, I grew to fear for Rose as her life started to unravel around her.
Polly was an interesting character, sometimes evil incarnate in a sexy dress, otherwise charm itself, and undeniably a very messed-up person. Sometimes it seemed she was so messed up that she couldn't help herself, and that there was only a certain amount of blame you could throw at her. Other times she was coolly manipulative, casting her glamour - and I mean this in all senses of the word - over Rose, her friends and relations, and eventually even the reader. As Polly began to cast her web, I was almost shouting at the characters, "How can you let her fool you?!" Yet in the end, even I was drawn in, a little. Even after all the evidence, even I wondered if, maybe, Polly was telling the truth and Rose was the one who was a bit mad.
When I started reading Cuckoo, it was with my editorial eyes, and at first I felt myself wanting to go through it with a red pencil. "Stop telling us and start showing! And for goodness' sake, stop telling us 'Rose thought this' and 'Rose thought that!'" Despite this, Crouch sets a really creepy, menacing atmosphere in her descriptions, each little detail leaving me worrying about what new disasters may unfold for Rose and her family. I feared for her.
Some aspects of the plot were visible for miles off, and I wondered how Rose herself could not see them sooner. But there were plenty of twists, too. Its ending was not a cosy, neat one, but if it had been, I would have felt cheated. This was not a neat story, but a messy one of damaged people trying to make their way the best they could.
If you enjoy this book, you may like:
The Poison Tree by Erin Kelly