Monster Love by Carol Topolski

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Monster Love Longlisted for the 2008 Orange Prize

Five words from the blurb: perfect, next door, gullible, alive, wrong

A few weeks ago I read Kim’s review of Carol Topolski’s new book, Do No Harm, and noticed that Kim described Topolski’s earlier book, Monster Love, as: 

“…one of the most disturbing novels I’d ever come across.”

These words are like catnip to me and so I checked out a copy the next time I went to the library.

Monster Love is set in a beautiful suburban street. A new couple, the Gutteridges, move in and they appear to be a normal couple, but behind closed doors they are subjecting their daughter to an almost unimaginable horror. The book is told from the view-point of those who knew the Gutteridges; people who feel a terrible burden of guilt on discovering the truth, as with hindsight it is possible they could have done something to prevent the suffering.

With her, it was like reaching for something quite ordinary, like a knife or a fork, and banging your knuckles against a pane of perspex. You have a couple more goes until, blowing on the bruises, you give up and look for the cutlery in another drawer. She was never anything but polite, never challenging or controversial, smiled prettily at one’s jokes, but it never felt like a response, more the logical result of a calculation.

This book had a fantastic beginning – a dark sense of foreboding built up as we slowly discovered what was happening inside that home. I found the insight into the minds of all the people frighteningly realistic and the scene in which the police finally entered the house was shockingly well written.

Unfortunately everything began to unravel once I knew what had happened. I found the couple’s reasoning all too believable, but the book had lost its forward momentum. All my sympathies were with the child and the guilt ridden acquaintances and so discovering the events in the couple’s past that had triggered their malice held little interest. I also found that the characters all tended to sound alike and so the chapter headings were vitally important in revealing who was speaking.

Topolski’s career as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist has clearly been useful in creating a realistic insight into the minds of a wide range of people, but I wish that the truth had been revealed later in the novel.

Despite these criticisms this book had enough to interest me all the way to the end and I’m keen to try her latest book, Do No Harm, at some point in the future.


Have you read anything written by Carol Topolski?

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  1. Steph says:

    Ooooh, this sounds deliciously creepy! I hadn’t heard of this author or this book, but now I’m excited to try it out for myself. You know I can never resist these slightly macabre novels! (What does that say about me?!?)

    1. Jackie says:

      Steph, I hadn’t heard of her before either, but I do love looking inside the minds of people – especially criminals.

      I can’t resist macabre novels either – I’m not sure what it says about us, but at least we know we aren’t alone :-)

  2. Alex says:

    I’m thinking Room (sooo good) meets A Child Called It (sooo bad)? I’m with you and Steph in always feeling slightly guilty for wanting to know more when coming across a story like this.

    1. Jackie says:

      Alex, I haven’t read A Child Called It so I’m afraid I can’t compare the two, but I don’t think this book has much in common with Room. It is more like a cross between We Need To Talk About Kevin and something faster paced with a disappointing ending. (I’m afriad my mind has gone blank trying to think of an example!)

  3. Andi says:

    This sounds like something I would’ve jumped on in a former life, but given my newfound horror at reading anything that harms children, I’m probably out. Loved the bits you posted, though. Might have to try something else of this author’s.

    1. Jackie says:

      Andi, I went through that stage when my children were babies too – don’t worry you should get over it very soon and redevelop your interest in this kind of thing. :-)

  4. Beth F says:

    A new to me author — I’m not sure this novel for me, but I’ll keep her name in mind.

    1. Jackie says:

      Beth, It sounds as though her new book is better so perhaps that is worth a try?

  5. Sandy says:

    I must be a sick and twisted little freak to get excited when someone says the word “disturbing” and I get all excited. I want to be disturbed! But when it involves a child, well, then it isn’t so exciting. It wouldn’t stop me from reading it (unlike some members of my book club who REFUSE to read ANYTHING that involves a crime and a child which drives me crazy). I suppose that it does make sense that once we know what is happening behind closed doors, the momentum would slow down considerably.

    1. Jackie says:

      Sandy, I think the good thing about this book is that it doesn’t detail any of the disturbing things that happen to the child. It focuses on the minds of those who did it and not and gratuitous details. I think that you might enjoy it more than I did.

  6. Jenners says:

    Despite your few quibbles, I have to say I’m intrigued!!!

    1. Jackie says:

      Jenners, Yes – there is a lot to like in this book and I am glad that I read it. I’d love it if you decided to give it a try.

  7. kimbofo says:

    Thanks for the shout-out, Jackie, and glad you liked this one. I’d urge you to read the new one too. It’s slightly more polished and way more disturbing!

    1. Jackie says:


      “It’s slightly more polished and way more disturbing!”

      You’ve sold me! I’ll be keeping an eye out for it!

  8. I have Do No Harm on the TBR and am now wondering if I should get this one from the library and read it first as the second sounds like it is better and the first one creepy enough to really intrigue me. I could have a Topolski binge (which sounds rather fun or rather dangerous) maybe?

    1. Jackie says:

      Simon, I’m afraid I can’t tell you which to read first, but it sounds as though both are good and worth reading. I look forward to seeing what you make of them :-)


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