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BOOK REVIEW: The Need by Helen Phillips

| 21 August 2019 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Need by Helen Phillips

Penguin | Viking
July 2019
Paperback, $29.99 AUD
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Fiction / Thriller / Speculative

80% Rocking

Molly is exhausted, anxious, losing her grip on reality. Her husband is away and she is running between her children and her job, where things are unravelling. She’s a paleobotanist, working at a fossil quarry, and has recently unearthed artefacts that defy understanding; the coke bottle with the lettering that leans the wrong way, the Bible with a female God. Where do these things come from?

At home, as dusk falls, she gets jumpy. Are those footsteps out in the hall? What was that noise? She holds her two small children close to her, and tries to pull herself together. But her worlds of work and home are about to collide. She discovers that the stranger in her sitting room knows everything about her life and, as their identity becomes chillingly clear, this intruder makes a demand of Molly that upends everything, forcing her to reckon with her most unspeakable fears.

The Need is a gripping, unsettling and stunningly original story that probes deep truths about motherhood, and explores grief, loss and how we treat others. It’s a compulsive, reality-warping novel that makes us rethink our world, and question how far we would go to protect the ones we love.

Reading as something of a fever dream about parenthood with a backdrop of otherness, The Need is bound to terrify readers who have small children or have experience with them, while at the same time making them feel heard in a way few books ever do.

She had finally fallen back to sleep in her own bed when there was a mouth an inch from her face.
“I’m carrying a tree.”
“I’m carrying a tree.”
“You’re carrying a tree?”
“No! Not a tree, a dream!”
“You’re carrying a dream?”

The events of the story are woven through with the parental realisation that the lives of these little people depend on you, and that you no longer have the freedom to let yourself fall apart because they will always be demanding more from you than you might think you have within you.

She and David had a running joke about how they both feared their kids at night the same way that, as children, they’d feared monsters under the bed. Beasts that would rise up from the side of your bed, seize you with sharp nails and demand things of you.

This is a difficult book to talk about without giving spoilers, but suffice it to say that, while her husband is out of town and Molly is juggling her work and her kids, the intensity of the chaos of every day life with two young children builds towards a breaking point. There have been some weird items unearthed at the archaeological dig site where she works, and she’s been hearing strange sounds.

The Need is an exploration of character and the lengths to which a mother might go for the sake of her kids, and how she finds the strength to go on when the world stops making quite so much sense.

“You come with me right this second,” Molly scream-whispered.
“But there’s a deer in our coffee table,” Viv said.
And there was.
The lid of the coffee table had been thrown back on its hinges. A deer head floated above it.

Bizarre, beautiful, and ultimately very real despite the speculative elements, this book will find the paranoid parts of your mind and take them for a ride.

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Category: Book Reviews

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