Suspense Review: The Baby Group

This was an ARC from NetGalley.

The Baby Group, by Caroline Corcoran

A sex tape, a mommy blogger, and an idyllic countryside village are the three main elements in this story of misguided revenge.

Scarlett is a recent transplant to a small village near Manchester. During the year of her maternity leave, she has also become something of a celebrity, thanks to her mommy blog and related social media accounts. But on her first day back at work in the city, her family and co-workers receive a link to a video from a lifetime ago, and Scarlett’s life begins to unravel.

I wasn’t sure, going in, whether a story about revenge porn inflicted on a new mother was something I could like or even handle. While I love thrillers in part for the controlled kind of anxiety they provide – intense, but ultimately resolved – I’m also careful not to pick ones that might ramp up my own, very real, anxiety disorder. On the surface, this one seemed to check off all the wrong boxes, but the synopsis was compelling enough for me to give it a try.

In the end, I basically inhaled the book (and I’m not a fast reader) in just two days. The plot was very well developed, and kept me guessing at every turn. The characters felt relatable, and all had motives for being both kind and cruel. But my favorite parts of this novel were the ones that explored some very real issues.

First and foremost, the sex tape plot line asks us to think about the double standards that exist for men and women when their sexual past is exposed. Scarlett was forced to be at the center of the scandal, defending her past, while no such attention was paid to the two men involved: they did not lose jobs or friends or family.

Everything has an added layer of shame when I think of my daughter, who has a mother who did this. I’m not clean enough for her. I’m not good enough.

Caroline Corcoran, The Baby Group

There’s also a lot of attention given to the disparities in work-life balance and family expectations between mothers and fathers. From the start of the novel, we see that Scarlett’s husband Ed doesn’t have the level of involvement in their daughter’s routine; even as Scarlett is preparing for her first day back at work, she’s the only one of the two also managing household chores. And this disparity becomes even more pronounced when Ed starts needing “time off” to deal with the emotional repercussions of the sex tape.

Shaking with rage at Ed, at a skewed world that means I can’t sashay out of our home and our responsibilities but my husband can. It’s hard to do dramatic sashays when you have to make fifteen phone calls to sort childcare and pack a Peppa Pig rucksack first.

Caroline Corcoran, The Baby Group

Finally, the novel has some interesting things to say about the contrast between our private and public lives. Scarlett’s online presence as a blogger and Instagrammer is a large part of her identity at the start of the book. She has gone through various incarnations throughout her life – rebellious teen, party girl, ambitious career woman, mother, influencer -, constantly reinventing herself. In the end, she’s not sure what actually makes her happy, and the novel’s central conflict ends up being a learning experience for her.

I wanted, as a new mum with an unsure identity, to make myself feel constructed and real. To build a whole world so I didn’t feel quite so much like I had strayed into someone else’s.

Caroline Corcoran, The Baby Group

There are a couple of scenes near the end that I felt were overly dramatic – confrontations that take place once Scarlett has hit rock bottom – but otherwise the pacing and tone were consistent and very satisfying. If you enjoy fast-paced thrillers that make you stop and think about bigger issues, definitely give The Baby Group a try.

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