Once You Know, by Madeleine Van Hecke

“Once You Know” is a contemporary novel about the trauma of a mother and daughter learning to survive and cope after the daughter remembers and reveals how she was sexually abused as a child. This isn’t what I usually read as those kinds of realistic violences and drama novels really pull at my heart strings and often leave me quite depressed. But I will admit I was curious about the treatment of the subject, this is such a tough topic, and an important one to acknowledge, warn, educate and discuss about. The book was quite intense and obviously not for everyone.

The novel rings very true throughout, reactions, emotions, character actions and personalities… There is obviously a lot of research that went into it all and the author knows her topic. Madeleine Van Hecke doesn’t shy away from exposing and exploring all the difficult, contradictory and covered up feelings of her characters. There is no stone left unturned and we really see through the eyes of both Rachel, the daughter, and Colleen the mother. The rehabilitation and rebuilding of the daughter’s self confidence is very well done.

But I really hated Colleen, the mother, her selfishness, her lack of sensitivity, her dangerous blindness when it came to the safety and wellbeing of both daughters and her sense of entitlement. The novel particularly centers around her, and surprisingly the daughter Rachel almost feels like a secondary character. Colleen was utterly believable, I know some women like that, and I always felt at a loss for words in front of them because they astound me so much, not in a good way. I appreciated getting a glimpse into her thought process. She felt so real that I now feel like I understand how people like that think. And insight is priceless. 

Except the focus on Colleen also made me fear a lot for the ending… in a way I wondered who’s side the book was going to take, and until the end I shuddered at the open possibilities. That does show real pacing skills. I feared immensely for the younger daughter Izzy from very early on, and once it grips you, it doesn’t leave until the end. That said, I am left unsatisfied with the ending. I felt it was way too soft on perpetrators, and the whole novel whipped out the words compassion and forgiveness everywhere much too easily. 

Nonetheless “Once you know” was very well written, and I am certain many will be taken and impressed by this novel. I recommend it to mature audiences who enjoy family dramas, and thorough dissections of complex human emotions.

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