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A Special Relationship

A Novel

About The Book

From the #1 internationally bestselling author of Five Days and The Blue Hour comes an unforgettable novel about a woman who seemingly has it all, until the man she trusted the most threatens to take it all away.

About an hour after I met Tony Hobbs, he saved my life. Thirty-seven-year-old American journalist Sally Goodchild quite literally married her hero. Both foreign correspondents, both on assignment in Cairo, they quickly fell in love and settled into domestic life in London. From the outset, Sally’s relationship with both Tony and his hometown was an uneasy one—as she found both to be far more unfamiliar than imagined. But her adjustment problems are soon overshadowed by a troubled pregnancy. When she goes into premature labor, there are doubts whether her child will survive unscathed. And then, out of nowhere, Sally is hit by an appalling postpartum depression—a descent into a temporary, but very personal hell, which even sees her articulating a homicidal thought against her baby. However, when she does manage to extricate herself from this desperate state, she finds herself in a fresh new nightmare, as she discovers that the man she thought knew her better than anyone—loved her more than anyone—now considers her an unfit mother and wants to bar her from ever seeing her child again.



ABOUT AN HOUR after I met Tony Hobbs, he saved my life.

I know that sounds just a little melodramatic, but it’s the truth. Or, at least, as true as anything a journalist will tell you.

I was in Somalia – a country I had never visited until I got a call in Cairo and suddenly found myself dispatched there. It was a Friday afternoon – the Muslim Holy Day. Like most foreign correspondents in the Egyptian capital, I was using the official day of rest to do just that. I was sunning myself beside the pool of the Gezira Club – the former haunt of British officers during the reign of King Farouk, but now the domain of the Cairene beau monde and assorted foreigners who’d been posted to the Egyptian capital. Even though the sun is a constant commodity in Egypt, it is something that most correspondents based there rarely get to see. Especially if, like me, they are bargain basement one-person operations, covering the entire Middle East and all of eastern Africa. Which is why I got that call on that Friday afternoon.

‘Is this Sally Goodchild?’ asked an American voice I hadn’t heard before.

‘That’s right,’ I said, sitting upright and holding the cell phone tightly to my ear in an attempt to block out a quartet of babbling Egyptian matrons sitting beside me. ‘Who’s this?’

‘Dick Leonard from the paper.’

I stood up, grabbing a pad and a pen from my bag. Then I walked to a quiet corner of the veranda. ‘The paper’ was my employer. Also known as the Boston Post. And if they were calling me on my cell phone, something was definitely up.

‘I’m new on the Foreign Desk,’ Leonard said, ‘and deputizing today for Charlie Geiken. I’m sure you’ve heard about the flood in Somalia?’

Rule one of journalism: never admit you’ve been even five minutes out of contact with the world at large. So all I said was, ‘How many dead?’

‘No definitive body count so far, according to CNN. And from all reports, it’s making the ’97 deluge look like a drizzle.’

‘Where exactly in Somalia?’

‘The Juba River Valley. At least four villages have been submerged. The editor wants somebody there. Can you leave straight away?’

So that’s how I found myself on a flight to Mogadishu, just four hours after receiving the call from Boston. Getting there meant dealing with the eccentricities of Ethiopian Airlines, and changing planes in Addis Ababa, before landing in Mogadishu just after midnight. I stepped out into the humid African night, and tried to find a cab into town. Eventually, a taxi showed up, but the driver drove like a kamikaze pilot, and also took a back road into the city centre – a road that was unpaved and also largely deserted. When I asked him why he had chosen to take us off the beaten track, he just laughed. So I pulled out my cell phone and dialled some numbers, and told the desk clerk at the Central Hotel in Mogadishu that he should call the police immediately and inform them that I was being kidnapped by a taxi driver, car licence number … (and, yes, I did note the cab’s licence plate before getting into it). Immediately the driver turned all apologetic, veering back to the main road, imploring me not to get him into trouble, and saying, ‘Really, it was just a short cut.’

‘In the middle of the night, when there’s no traffic? You really expect me to believe that?’

‘Will the police be waiting for me at the hotel?’

‘If you get me there, I’ll call them off.’

He veered back to the main road, and I made it intact to the Central Hotel in Mogadishu – the cab driver still apologizing as I left his car. After four hours’ sleep, I managed to make contact with the International Red Cross in Somalia, and talked my way on to one of their helicopters that was heading to the flood zone.

It was just after nine in the morning when the chopper took off from a military airfield outside the city. There were no seats inside. I sat with three other Red Cross staffers on its cold steel floor. The helicopter was elderly and deafening. As it left the ground, it lurched dangerously to the starboard side – and we were all thrown against the thick webbed belts, bolted to the cabin walls, into which we had fastened ourselves before take-off. Once the pilot regained control and we evened out, the guy seated on the floor opposite me smiled broadly and said, ‘Well, that was a good start.’

Though it was difficult to hear anything over the din of the rotor blades, I did discern that the fellow had an English accent. Then I looked at him more closely and figured that this was no aid worker. It wasn’t just the sangfroid when it looked like we might just crash. It wasn’t just his blue denim shirt, his blue denim jeans, and his stylish horn-rimmed sunglasses. Nor was it his tanned face – which, coupled with his still-blond hair, leant him a certain weather-beaten appeal if you liked that perpetually insomniac look. No – what really convinced me that he wasn’t Red Cross was the jaded, slightly flirtatious smile he gave me after our near-death experience. At that moment, I knew that he was a journalist.

Just as I saw that he was looking me over, appraising me, and also probably working out that I too wasn’t relief worker material. Of course, I was wondering how I was being perceived. I have one of those Emily Dickinson-style New England faces – angular, a little gaunt, with a permanently fair complexion that resists extended contact with the sun. A man who once wanted to marry me – and turn me into exactly the sort of soccer mom I was determined never to become – told me I was ‘beautiful in an interesting sort of way’. After I stopped laughing, this struck me as something out of the ‘plucky’ school of backhanded compliments. He also told me that he admired the way I looked after myself. At least he didn’t say I was ‘wearing well’. Still, it is true that my ‘interesting’ face hasn’t much in the way of wrinkles or age-lines, and my light brown hair (cut sensibly short) isn’t yet streaked with grey. So though I may be crowding middle age, I can pass myself off as just over the thirty-year-old frontier.

All these banal thoughts were abruptly interrupted when the helicopter suddenly rolled to the left as the pilot went full throttle and we shot off at speed to a higher altitude. Accompanying this abrupt, convulsive ascent – the G-force of which threw us all against our webbed straps – was the distinctive sound of anti-aircraft fire. Immediately, the Brit was digging into his daypack, pulling out a pair of field glasses. Despite the protestations of one of the Red Cross workers, he unbuckled his straps and manoeuvred himself around to peer out one of the porthole windows.

‘Looks like someone’s trying to kill us,’ he shouted over the din of the engine. But his voice was calm, if not redolent of amusement.

‘Who’s “someone”?’ I shouted back.

‘Usual militia bastards,’ he said, his eyes still fastened to the field glasses. ‘The same charmers who caused such havoc during the last flood.’

‘But why are they shooting at a Red Cross chopper?’ I asked.

‘Because they can,’ he said. ‘They shoot at anything foreign and moving. It’s sport to them.’

He turned to the trio of Red Cross medicos strapped in next to me.

‘I presume your chap in the cockpit knows what he’s doing,’ he asked. None of them answered him – because they were all white with shock. That’s when he flashed me a deeply mischievous smile, making me think: the guy’s actually enjoying all this.

I smiled back. That was a point of pride with me – to never show fear under fire. I knew from experience that, in such situations, all you could do was take a very deep breath, remain focused, and hope you got through it. And so I picked a spot on the floor of the cabin and stared at it, all the while silently telling myself: It will be fine. It will be just …

And then the chopper did another roll and the Brit was tossed away from the window, but managed to latch on to his nearby straps and avoid being hurled across the cabin.

‘You okay?’ I asked.

Another of his smiles. ‘I am now,’ he said.

A further three stomach-churning rolls to the right, followed by one more rapid acceleration, and we seemed to leave the danger zone. Ten nervous minutes followed, then we banked low. I craned my neck, looked out the window and sucked in my breath. There before me was a submerged landscape – Noah’s Flood. The water had consumed everything. Houses and livestock floated by. Then I spied the first dead body – face down in the water, followed by four more bodies, two of which were so small that, even from the air, I was certain they were children.

Everyone in the chopper was now peering out the window, taking in the extent of the calamity. The chopper banked again, pulling away from the nucleus and coming in fast over higher ground. Up in the distance, I could see a cluster of jeeps and military vehicles. Closer inspection showed that we were trying to land amidst the chaos of a Somalian Army encampment, with several dozen soldiers milling around the clapped-out military equipment spread across the field. In the near-distance, we could see three white jeeps flying the Red Cross flag. There were around fourteen aid workers standing by the jeeps, frantically waving to us. There was a problem, however. A cluster of Somalian soldiers was positioned within a hundred yards of the Red Cross team – and they were simultaneously making beckoning gestures towards us with their arms.

‘This should be amusing,’ the Brit said.

‘Not if it’s like last time,’ one of the Red Cross team said.

‘What happened last time?’ I asked.

‘They tried to loot us,’ he said.

‘That happened a lot back in ’97 too,’ the Brit said.

‘You were here in ’97?’ I asked him.

‘Oh yes,’ he said, flashing me another smile. ‘A delightful spot, Somalia. Especially under water.’

We overflew the soldiers and the Red Cross jeeps. But the aid workers on the ground seemed to know the game we were playing, as they jumped into the jeeps, reversed direction, and started racing towards the empty terrain where we were coming down. I glanced over at the Brit. He had his binoculars pressed against the window, that sardonic smile of his growing broader by the nanosecond.

‘Looks like there’s going to be a little race to meet us,’ he said.

I peered out my window and saw a dozen Somalian soldiers running in our general direction.

‘See what you mean,’ I shouted back to him as we landed with a bump.

With terra firma beneath us, the Red Cross man next to me was on his feet, yanking up the lever which kept the cabin door in its place. The others headed toward the cargo bay at the rear of the cabin, undoing the webbing that held in the crates of medical supplies and dried food.

‘Need a hand?’ the Brit asked one of the Red Cross guys.

‘We’ll be fine,’ he said. ‘But you better get moving before the Army shows up.’

‘Where’s the nearest village?’

‘It was about a kilometre due south of here. But it’s not there anymore.’

‘Right,’ he said. Then he turned to me and asked, ‘You coming?’

I nodded, but then turned back to the Red Cross man and asked, ‘What are you going to do about the soldiers?’

‘What we usually do. Stall them while the pilot radios the Somalian central command – if you can call it that – and orders some officer over here to get them off our backs. But you both better get out of here now. The soldiers really don’t see the point of journalists.’

‘We’re gone,’ I said. ‘Thanks for the lift.’

The Brit and I headed out of the cabin. As soon as we hit the ground, he tapped me on the shoulder and pointed towards the three Red Cross jeeps. Crouching low, we ran in their direction, not looking back until we were behind them. This turned out to be a strategically smart move, as we had managed to dodge the attention of the Somalian soldiers, who had now surrounded the chopper. Four of them had their guns trained on the Red Cross team. One of the soldiers started shouting at the aid workers – but they didn’t seem flustered at all, and began the ‘stalling for time’ gambit. Though I couldn’t hear much over the din of the rotor motor, it was clear that the Red Cross guys had played this dangerous game before, and knew exactly what to do. The Brit nudged me with his elbow.

‘See that clump of trees over there,’ he said, pointing towards a small patch of gum trees around fifty yards from us.

I nodded. After one fast final glance at the soldiers – now ripping into a case of medical supplies – we made a dash for it. It couldn’t have taken more than twenty seconds to cover the fifty yards, but God did it seem long. I knew that, if the soldiers saw two figures running for cover, their natural reaction would be to shoot us down. When we reached the woods, we ducked behind a tree. Neither of us was winded – but when I looked at the Brit, I caught the briefest flicker of adrenalin-fuelled tension in his eyes. Once he realized that I’d glimpsed it, he immediately turned on his sardonic smile.

‘Well done,’ he whispered. ‘Think you can make it over there without getting shot?’

I looked in the direction he was pointing – another meagre grove of trees that fronted the now-deluged river. I met his challenging smile. ‘I never get shot,’ I said. Then we ran out of the trees, making a manic beeline for the next patch of cover. This run took around a minute – during which time the world went silent, and all I could hear were my feet scything through the high grass. I was genuinely tense. But like that moment in the helicopter when we first came under fire, I tried to concentrate on something abstract like my breathing. The Brit was ahead of me. But as soon as he reached the trees, something brought him to a sudden halt. I stopped in my tracks as I saw him walking backwards, his arms held high in the air. Emerging from the trees was a young Somalian soldier. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen. His rifle was trained on the Brit, who was quietly attempting to talk his way out of this situation. Suddenly the soldier saw me – and when he turned his gun on me, I made a desperate error of judgment. Instead of immediately acting submissive – coming to a complete halt, putting my hands above my head, and making no sudden movements (as I had been trained to do) – I hit the ground, certain he was going to fire at me. This caused him to roar at me, as he now tried to get me in his sights. Then, suddenly, the Brit tackled him, knocking him to the ground. I was now back on my feet, running towards the scene. The Brit swung a clenched fist, slamming it into the soldier’s stomach, knocking the wind out of him. The kid groaned, and the Brit brought his boot down hard on the hand that was clutching the gun. The kid screamed.

‘Let go of the gun,’ the Brit demanded.

‘Fuck you,’ the kid yelled. So the Brit brought his boot down even harder. This time the soldier released the weapon, which the Brit quickly scooped up and had trained on the soldier in a matter of seconds.

‘I hate impoliteness,’ the Brit said, cocking the rifle.

The kid now began to sob, curling up into a foetal position, pleading for his life. I turned to the Brit and said, ‘You can’t …’

But he just looked at me and winked. Then, turning back to the child soldier, he said, ‘Did you hear my friend? She doesn’t want me to shoot you.’

The kid said nothing. He just curled himself tighter into a ball, crying like the frightened child he was.

‘I think you should apologize to her, don’t you?’ said the Brit. I could see the gun trembling in his hands.

‘Sorry, sorry, sorry,’ the kid said, the words choked with sobs. The Brit looked at me.

‘Apology accepted?’ he asked. I nodded.

The Brit nodded at me, then turned back to the kid and asked, ‘How’s your hand?’


‘Sorry about that,’ he said. ‘You can go now, if you like.’

The kid, still trembling, got to his feet. His face was streaked with tears and there was a damp patch around his crotch where he’d wet himself out of fear. He looked at us with terror in his eyes – still certain he was going to be shot. To his credit, the Brit reached out and put a steadying hand on the soldier’s shoulder.

‘It’s all right,’ he said quietly. ‘Nothing’s going to happen to you. But you have to promise me one thing: you must not tell anyone in your company that you met us. Will you do that?’

The soldier glanced at the gun still in the Brit’s hands and nodded. Many times.

‘Good. One final question. Are there any army patrols down river from here?’

‘No. Our base got washed away. I got separated from the others.’

‘How about the village near here?’

‘Nothing left of it.’

‘All the people washed away?’

‘Some made it to a hill.’

‘Where’s the hill?’

The soldier pointed toward an overgrown path through the trees.

‘How long from here on foot?’ he asked.

‘Half an hour.’

The Brit looked at me and said, ‘That’s our story.’

‘Sounds good to me,’ I said, meeting his look.

‘Run along now,’ the Brit said to the soldier.

‘My gun …’

‘Sorry, but I’m keeping it.’

‘I’ll get in big trouble without it.’

‘Say it was washed away in the flood. And remember: I expect you to keep that promise you made. You never saw us. Understood?’

The kid looked back at the gun, then up again at the Brit.

‘I promise.’

‘Good lad. Now go.’

The boy soldier nodded and dashed out of the trees in the general direction of the chopper. When he was out of sight, the Brit shut his eyes, drew in a deep breath and said, ‘Fucking hell.’

‘And so say all of us.’

He opened his eyes and looked at me. ‘You all right?’ he said.

‘Yeah – but I feel like a complete jerk.’

He grinned. ‘You were a complete jerk – but it happens. Especially when you get surprised by a kid with a gun. On which note …’

He motioned with his thumb that we should make tracks. Which is exactly what we did – negotiating our way through the thicket of woods, finding the overgrown path, threading our way on to the edge of swamped fields. We walked non-stop for fifteen minutes, saying nothing. The Brit led the way. I walked a few steps behind. I watched my companion as we hiked deeper into this submerged terrain. He was very focused on the task of getting us as far away from the soldiers as possible. He was also acutely conscious of any irregular sounds emanating from this open terrain. Twice he stopped and turned back to me, putting his finger to his lips when he thought he heard something. We only started to walk again when he was certain no one was on our tail. I was intrigued by the way he held the soldier’s gun. Instead of slinging it over his shoulder, he carried it in his right hand, the barrel pointed downwards, the rifle held away from his body. And I knew that he would never have shot that soldier. Because he was so obviously uncomfortable holding a gun.

After around fifteen minutes, he pointed to a couple of large rocks positioned near the river. We sat down, but didn’t say anything for a moment as we continued to gauge the silence, trying to discern approaching footsteps in the distance. After a moment, he spoke.

‘The way I figure it, if that kid had told on us, his comrades would be here by now.’

‘You certainly scared him into thinking you would kill him.’

‘He needed scaring. Because he would have shot you without compunction.’

‘I know. Thank you.’

‘All part of the service.’ Then he proffered his hand and said, ‘Tony Hobbs. Who do you write for?’

‘The Boston Post!

An amused smile crossed his lips. ‘Do you really?’

‘Yes,’ I said. ‘Really. We do have foreign correspondents, you know.’

‘Really?’ he said, mimicking my accent. ‘So you’re a foreign correspondent?’

‘Really,’ I said, attempting to mimic his accent.

To his credit, he laughed. And said, ‘I deserved that.’

‘Yes. You did.’

‘So where do you correspond from?’ he asked.

‘Cairo. And let me guess. You write for the Sun?’

‘The Chronicle, actually.’

I tried not to appear impressed. ‘The Chronicle actually, actually?’ I said.

‘You give as good as you get.’

‘It comes with being the correspondent of a smallish newspaper. You have to hold your own with arrogant big boys.’

‘Oh, you’ve already decided I’m arrogant?’

‘I worked that out two minutes after first seeing you in the chopper. You based in London?’

‘Cairo, actually.’

‘But I know the Chronicle guy there. Henry …’

‘Bartlett. Got sick. Ulcer thing. So they sent for me from Tokyo around ten days ago.’

‘I used to cover Tokyo. Four years ago.’

‘Well, I’m obviously following you around.’

There was a sound of nearby footsteps. We both tensed. Tony picked up the rifle he had leaned against the rock. Then we heard the steps grow nearer. As we stood up, a young Somalian woman came running down the path, a child in her arms. The woman couldn’t have been more than twenty; the baby was no more than two months old. The mother was gaunt; the child chillingly still. As soon as the woman saw us, she began to scream in a dialect that neither of us understood, making wild gesticulations at the gun in Tony’s hand. Tony twigged immediately. He tossed the gun into the rushing waters of the river – adding it to the flooded debris washing downstream. The gesture seemed to surprise the woman. But as she turned back to me and started pleading with me again, her legs buckled. Tony and I both grabbed her, keeping her upright. I glanced down at her lifeless baby, still held tightly in her arms. I looked up at the Brit. He nodded in the direction of the Red Cross chopper. We each put an arm around her emaciated waist, and began the slow journey back to the clearing where we’d landed earlier.

When we reached it, I was relieved to see that several Somalian Army jeeps had rolled up near the chopper, and the previously marauding troops had been brought under control. We escorted her past the soldiers, and made a beeline for the Red Cross chopper. Two of the aid workers from the flight were still unloading supplies.

‘Who’s the doctor around here?’ I asked. One of the guys looked up, saw the woman and child, and sprang into action, while his colleague politely told us to get lost.

‘There’s nothing more you can do now.’

Nor, it turned out, was there any chance that we’d be allowed back down the path towards that washed-out village – as the Somalian Army had now blocked it off. When I found the head Red Cross medico and told him about the villagers perched on a hill around two kilometres from here, he said (in his crispest Swiss accent), ‘We know all about it. And we will be sending our helicopter as soon as the Army gives us clearance.’

‘Let us go with you,’ I said.

‘It’s not possible. The Army will only allow three of our team to fly with them—’

‘Tell them we’re part of the team,’ Tony said.

‘We need to send medical men.’

‘Send two,’ Tony said, ‘and let one of us—’

But we were interrupted by the arrival of some Army officer. He tapped Tony on the shoulder.

‘You – papers.’

Then he tapped me. ‘You too.’

We handed over our respective passports. ‘Red Cross papers,’ he demanded. When Tony started to make up some far-fetched story about leaving them behind, the officer rolled his eyes and said one damning word, ‘Journalists.’

Then he turned to his soldiers and said, ‘Get them on the next chopper back to Mogadishu.’

We returned to the capital under virtual armed guard. When we landed at another military field on the outskirts of the capital, I fully expected us to be taken into custody and arrested. But instead, one of the soldiers on the plane asked me if I had any American dollars.

‘Perhaps,’ I said – and then, chancing my arm, asked him if he could arrange a ride for us to the Central Hotel for ten bucks.

‘You pay twenty, you get your ride.’

He even commandeered a jeep to get us there. En route, Tony and I spoke for the first time since being placed under armed guard.

‘Not a lot to write about, is there?’ I said.

‘I’m sure we’ll both manage to squeeze something out of it.’

We found two rooms on the same floor, and agreed to meet after we’d filed our respective copy. Around two hours later – shortly after I’d dispatched by email seven hundred words on the general disarray in the Juba River Valley, the sight of floating bodies in the river, the infra-structural chaos, and the experience of being fired upon in a Red Cross helicopter by rebel forces – there was a knock at my door.

Tony stood outside, holding a bottle of Scotch and two glasses.

‘This looks promising,’ I said. ‘Come on in.’

He didn’t leave again until seven the next morning – when we checked out to catch the early morning flight back to Cairo. From the moment I saw him in the chopper, I knew that we would inevitably fall into bed with each other, should the opportunity arise. Because that’s how this game worked. Foreign correspondents rarely had spouses or ‘significant others’ – and most people you met in the field were definitely not the sort you wanted to share a bed with for ten minutes, let alone a night.

But when I woke next to Tony, the thought struck me: he’s actually living where I live. Which led to what was, for me, a most unusual thought: and I’d actually like to see him again. In fact, I’d like to see him tonight.

© 2003 Douglas Kennedy

Reading Group Guide

This reading group guide for A Special Relationship includes an introduction, discussion questions, ideas for enhancing your book club, and a Q&A with author Douglas Kennedy. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book. 



Sally Goodchild is a foreign correspondent living a life of action, independence, and intelligence. She has it all: a solid resume, an active career, and a strong journalistic reputation. The one thing she has never encountered is a man that can match her intelligence, her wit, and her lifestyle. That is, until fellow foreign correspondent Tony Hobbs saves her life on the flooded plains of Somalia. His acerbic humor, confidence, and elite British charm quickly seduce her. But their journalistic love affair is threatened when Sally becomes pregnant with his child. Much to her surprise, Tony is pleased and asks for her hand in marriage and a life with him back in his home town of London. This sets in motion a downward spiral of depression and deceit, as the man whom she thought she loved attempts to take from her what matters most, her own son. Sally must fight to rebuild her life against a rising tide of opposition as a stranger in a strange land.



Discussion Questions

1. When we first meet Sally Goodchild, she is living the life of a foreign correspondent—rootless, brave, with a schedule in a constant state of flux. She must travel all around the world to dangerous and precarious locations. What types of individuals are drawn to this manic lifestyle? What are the payoffs? What are the sacrifices?

2. Sally is instantly attracted to Tony Hobbs, the charming journalist she meets in Africa. However, there are potential warning signs that Sally ignores. “He enjoyed repartee—not just for its verbal gamesmanship, but also because it allowed him to retreat from the serious, or anything that might be self-revealing” (p. 18–19). What clues does this give to Tony Hobb’s personality and his eventual betrayal?

3. Early in Sally’s life, she suffers the death of her parents. She develops a philosophy to cope with this loss: “. . . you come to realize pretty damn fast that everything is fragile; that so-called ‘security’ is nothing more than a thin veneer that can fracture without warning” (p. 29). Is this particular cynicism and fear of instability what leads her to fall into Tony Hobb’s arms so quickly? Why would Sally jump into a risky situation with a man she hardly knows?
4. The novel discusses the differences between American and British culture. What are some of these intrinsic differences? How does Sally’s use of language differ from the people that surround her in London? How does being a foreigner affect her life in England?

5. As Sally and Tony’s love affair continues, she receives odd reports about Tony’s recklessness, one from a colleague from the Daily Telegraph: “It’s common knowledge back in London that Hobbs is something of a political disaster when it comes to the game of office politics” (p. 31). This information from a fellow journalist does not dissuade Sally from falling head over heels in love with Hobbs. What causes her blindness? Does the fact that she is “crowding middle- age” play a factor in her decisions?

6. When Sally learns she is pregnant with Tony’s child, she immediately tells him, expecting this to complicate things between them. However, Tony agrees to keep the child, and furthermore, offers marriage as well. For two people bent on independence and freedom for all of their lives, why does Tony go along so easily into this new arrangement? More important, why does Sally?

7. Sally explains: “We can delude ourselves into believing that we’re the master captain, steering the course of our destiny . . . but the randomness of everything inevitably pushes us into places and situations where we never expect to find ourselves” (p. 98). One of these ‘random’ situations Sally finds herself in is married, pregnant, and living in a stable home in London, a far cry from her adventure-laden journalistic lifestyle. Sally blames her situation on this ‘randomness.’ Is this really accurate? How much of Sally’s own free will, not randomness, is the cause of her current predicament? What could she have done differently to have avoided this fate?

8. As her pregnancy progresses, Sally begins to experience a myriad of health problems, which forces her to leave her job and remain in the hospital until her child is born. This is the beginning of Sally’s decline, mentally and physically. “I always had to be active, always have to be accomplishing something—my workaholism underscored by a fear of slowing down, of losing momentum” (p. 101). How does this ‘down time’ begin to chip away at her mental health? What happens to a person so accustomed to action when they are suddenly confronted with no responsibilities or deadlines?

9. Soon after she recovers and is able to leave the hospital, Sally receives word that her job with the Post’s foreign bureau is no longer available. This is the beginning of the descent for Sally. Was it fair for Sally to be let go because of health conditions? Was there anything she could have done to prevent this?

10. The marital bliss between Tony and Sally starts to unravel sooner than expected. “But what I couldn’t get out of my brain was the larger, implicit realization that I had married someone with whom I didn’t share a common language” (p. 108). Despite some advice from her sister about marriage, this divide between Tony and Sally only grows deeper. How are they missing each other? What are some examples from their lives that show this breakdown in communication?

11. Once little Jack is born, he suffers from a serious case of jaundice. The first time Sally is allowed to see her son, she is shocked by her initial feelings of disconnection. “But another terrible thought hit me: could he really be my son? They say that you should be swamped by unconditional love the moment you first see your child . . . and that the bonding process should begin immediately. But how could I bond with this miniscule stranger, currently looking like a horrific medical experiment?” (p. 117). Can you identify with Sally here? Why does she feel this way?

12. As the months of banality pile upon each other, Sally finds herself caught in a nightmarish world of postnatal depression, which this novel grimly confronts. The disconnection between she and Tony grows; their sex life is nonexistent; and her time is divided between sleeping (alone), feeding little Jack, and changing diapers. “The hopelessness of my situation took hold. I wasn’t just a useless mother and wife, but someone who was also in a no-exit situation from which there was no escape. A life sentence of domestic and maternal drudgery, with a man who clearly didn’t love me” (p. 202). This is the point of view of a woman obviously suffering from postnatal depression, a serious condition of clinical depression. What are some of the ways Sally tries to reach out for help? Are these cries for help answered?

13. In therapy, Sally confesses to experiencing a ‘feeling of inadequacy,’ “the perennial worry of the perennial B student who never felt she was achieving her potential . . .” (p. 242). What do you believe are some of the causes of Sally’s feelings of inadequacy? Is there a link to the feeling of responsibility for her parent’s death?

14. As Sally’s life becomes more manageable, she begins to experience a sort of cathartic realization about pain. “At heart, all grief centers around the realization that you can never escape the bereavement that has stricken you. There may be moments when you can cope with its severity; when the harshness temporarily lessens. But the real problem with grief is its perpetuity. It doesn’t go away. And though you are, on one level, always crying for the loss you’ve sustained, you’re also crying because you realize you’re now stuck with the loss, that—try as you might—it’s become an intrinsic part of you, and will change the way you look at things forever” (p. 350). What instances of grief is Sally referring to? What tragedies has she overcome, and still must overcome? Do you agree that these tragedies never leave us?

15. Sandy, Sally’s sister, is angered when she hears in court about Sally’s feelings of responsibility for her parent’s death. She is offended, not because she actually believes Sally is responsible for their accident, but for not trusting in her sister to tell her she felt this way. Why did Sally keep this secret from her sister for so long?


Enhance Your Book Club

1. Read Journalistas: 100 Years of the Best Writing and Reporting by Woman Journalists, edited by Eleanor Mills, to get a taste for the exciting and often dangerous lifestyles of foreign correspondents like Sally Goodchild.

2. Postpartum depression, or postnatal depression (PND), is a form of clinical depression that affects more than 25 percent of woman after childbirth. This condition is a debilitating and dangerous illness resulting in fatigue, irritability, sadness, reduced libido, anxiety, and crying episodes. All of these symptoms afflict Sally Goodchild after the birth of her son, Jack. Research the effects of PND with source materials such as Brooke Shields’s memoir Down Came the Rain and Dr. Sandra L. Wheatley’s Coping with Postnatal Depression to learn about this common and debilitating illness.

3. The distinct difference between British and American style of discourse, modes of expression, and cultures are noted numerous times in the novel. “That was the most intriguing thing about London—its aloofness. Perhaps it had something to do with the reticent temperament of its natives” (p. 54), Sally comments. In contrary, she finds considerable trouble caused by her “. . . inborn American inability to couch things in coded language . . .” (p. 291). Sally refused to “. . . accept that pragmatic pessimism, which . . . struck me as so desperately English. I wanted to embrace that old hoary American fighting spirit” (p. 351). Compare and contrast the American and British world views as depicted in the novel. What do you find to be specific to each culture’s social and personal philosophies?

A Conversation with Douglas Kennedy

Q: A common trait in your characters is the need for unrelenting independence and a yearning for freedom. However, this independence and freedom is challenged by the act of falling in love. Is the act of love diametrically opposed to freedom and independence?

A: Romance is one thing, domesticity another. And do note that I choose to use the word “romance” rather than love in this context. All love stories begin as a romance. And speaking from personal experience, all romances begin (or, at least, should begin) with sexual and emotional headiness. Then, of course, the moment arrives when someone has forgotten to do the dishes for the first time—and the entire game changes. Love, of course, is a wholly different construct to romance. Love is about proper intimacy and true complicity. And that’s why it is so damn difficult to sustain.


Q: The novel opens with terse action and vivid portrayals of flooding in Somalia and the chaos ensuing on the ground. You have traveled extensively around the world. Have you been a witness to such chaos?

A: I have been chased by three brick-wielding youths down a backstreet in Algiers. I was arrested, temporarily, by the military police in the Egyptian oasis of Siwa for traveling into a “security zone” without proper authorization. I have woken up in a no-star hotel in the Moroccan town of Meknes to find a guy in my room, going through my suitcase—and I did catch him in the back of the head with my shortwave radio, which I grabbed off the bedside table . . . and which was smashed in the process. And I have ventured into a bikers bar in Alabama and emerged with all my teeth intact (no easy trick that). So, yes, travel, especially travel in edgy places, has its attendant dangers, which is, after all, the point of venturing into edgy places.


Q: Your work is reminiscent of the classic Madam Bovary, particularly with the theme of women trying their best to avoid the banality of a suburban life. What influence does Gustave Flaubert have upon your work?

A:Flaubert did something absolutely epoch-changing in Madame Bovary. He was the first novelist ever to confront a key malaise: boredom. All those novels (mine included), which have grappled with marital discontent and the horrors of quotidian life owe a huge debt to Flaubert. He articulated for the first time the way the day-to-day can grind us down, and how we often turn to banal melodrama (like an affair) as a way of subverting the cul-de-sac into which we have imprisoned ourselves. More tellingly, Flaubert understood the fact that we are the architects of these cul-de-sacs . . . and that we frequently imprison ourselves in lives that we don’t want.


Q: Sally Goodchild’s slow descent into the horror and the hopelessness of postpartum depression is expressed so harrowingly across the page. At what lengths did you research this terrible condition experienced by women after birth?

A: I met a woman in her mid-thirties at a dinner party in London, who, after around three large glasses of chardonnay, started telling me about the fact that, though she had so wanted a big family, after the birth of her son she had been hit with a postpartum depression so severe that she never had a second child. I explained my interest in such a story. I’d begun to think about a novel centering around motherhood-as-nightmare and asked her for her phone number (reassuring her it was for professional reasons only). We met for coffee around a week later and she talked nonstop for three hours (no one had ever asked her about her descent into postnatal hell—and her stockbroker husband found the whole episode so distasteful that . . . well, you can complete the sentence). I took extensive notes while she spoke, then read two books on postnatal depression afterward, and also spoke at length with a doctor on the subject. After that, during the actual writing of the novel, it was essentially all about imagining my way into Sally’s head as she plunged into this hellish vortex. Some years after the original UK publication, while giving a talk at the Edinburgh Book Festival, I was approached by two women from the British Society of Postnatal Depression. They told me that this novel had become, for them, a standard set text on the subject, and one that they gave to women in the throes of this nightmare. “How did you get it so right?” they asked me. It was the nicest compliment imaginable because, while working on the novel, I was so cognizant of the fact that (as a man) I was dealing with a great terra incognito.


Q: Examples of the differences between American and British social mores and communication styles are rampant throughout the novel. As an American man who lives in London, what personal experiences informed these frequent philosophical quips about the difference between the two cultures?

A: I once told a rather shocked English journalist that the only way to live in London as an American was to become an Anglophobe. “It’s an English perversity, but they prefer someone who is slightly contemptuous of them than someone desperate to fit in to English life.” I love London for its theaters, its museums, its concert halls, my great friends, its extraordinary ethnic diversity, its social tolerance and social democracy, its stealthy sense of irony, and the fact that it hates self-importance. But I have never considered myself residing in the UK, rather in the city-state that is London. And perhaps that tells you all you need to know about my relationship with the place!


Q: The British legal system, something quite foreign to an American audience, is depicted quite extensively in this work. What were your research methods for getting it right?

A: I had the great counsel of a wonderful divorce lawyer named Frances Hughes, a very smart, canny woman who had seen it all when it came to the folly of marriages gone wrong, and who gave me a crash course in the British legal system, which, indeed, is so wildly different from our own in the US. Life is full of extraordinary ironies. And perhaps the biggest one in relationship to Frances, who was so clever and dry and perceptive when it came to the legal aspects of the novel, is that when my own marriage fell apart six years later she was the lawyer whom I engaged to handle my divorce. And she did a brilliant job, keeping me sane during the yearlong roller coaster ride that ensued.


Q: The art of survival and facing challenges is a common theme in your works. Sally Goodchild is brought to the brink of madness before she begins to fight against powers that are trying to destroy her. Have you faced any challenges when you had to fight, much like your characters, for your own survival?

A: Put it this way: Like everyone I know I have had my share of personal upheavals and challenges in life. But I have also come to appreciate the fact that such crises are part of the price we pay for being alive. There are crises that you yourself spark. There are crises that others spark. And there is the happenstantial stuff that can send your life into a downward spiral. I think the trick is to understand that we all land in a very dark wood from time to time. Extricating oneself from this enclosed place is never a simple matter, but it usually teaches us enormously about ourselves and the people to whom we are (allegedly) closest.


Q: There is an interesting passage in the novel regarding the breakdown of human relationships: “. . . it also stems from a need for turmoil, for change . . . all of which might be linked to that very human fear of morality, and the realization that everything is finite. It is this knowledge that makes us scramble even harder for some sort of meaning or import to the minor lives that we lead . . . even if it means pulling everything apart in the process” (p. 370). Do you believe this to be true? Is there something essential built into the human structure that desires to destroy itself?

A: We are all sold a bill of goods in life about the absolute need for stability. The fact is, nothing in life is truly stable, and to think otherwise is to engage in profound self-delusion. More tellingly, I do think there is a self-destructive aspect built into us all, and one which certain people (in my experience) foster more than others. “Things fall apart, the centre will not hold,” Yeats noted in his great poem, “The Second Coming.” But the truth often is that things fall apart because we ourselves don’t want the center to hold.


Q: The passages about grief in this work are very powerful, especially about how grief becomes “an intrinsic part of you.” Coupled with the ideas that “everything is fragile,” the world you paint of modern life is riddled with fear and misfortune. As Sally whispers to her son at the close of the novel: “It’s just the rain. And we had better get used to it.” Is this a perspective you share with your characters?

A: I sense one of the reasons why my books have such a wide and diverse public in so many countries is precisely because they grapple with modern anxiety. And, let’s face it, we all love reading about other people’s nightmares, especially ones we know could easily happen to us.


Q: When Sally Goodchild first sees Tony Hobbs after he tried to take her son away from her, she can’t help but to reminisce about their first meeting in the helicopter over a flooded Somalian valley: “That’s how our story started—and this is where it had now brought us: to the steps of a court of law, surrounded by our respective legal teams, unable to look each other in the eye” (p. 419). This reflection on the path of one’s life is an important one. It is amazing to see where the path one starts can lead. Did you envision this kind of success when you left Manhattan for Europe in 1977?

A: Of course I find the way my life has progressed in the thirty-three years since leaving Manhattan nothing less than intriguing (please note the use here of understatement). And yes I also frequently find myself wondering just what level of alcoholic I’d be right now if I had followed my father’s advice and become a lawyer (and I say that as someone with many lawyer friends, but they wanted to enter the legal profession and, ergo, have a great passion for it). I started out running theaters, then wrote plays, then wrote narrative travel books and journalism, then wrote novels, and, in my early forties, finally worked out that my métier was indeed as a novelist. In the midst of all these different creative lives, I have lived in Dublin, London, Paris and Berlin, learned how to speak fluent French, traveled everywhere from the Australian Outback to Patagonia to Western Samoa to Vietnam to Egypt to Indonesia to Newfoundland to the American Bible Belt to . . . well l, I could go on, but it might get tedious. But I still think of so many places that I haven’t seen and so many novels I still want to write. As I tell my children constantly, the key to an interesting life is twofold: openness and curiosity. Perhaps there’s a third key: doing what you want, not what others expect of you. And you also need to be aware of the fact that life can change in an instant. It’s just that we never know when or where that instant will come.

About The Author

Photograph by Christine Ury

Douglas Kennedy is the author of eleven previous novels, including the international bestsellers The Moment and Five Days. His work has been translated into twenty-two languages, and in 2007 he received the French decoration of Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. He divides his time among London, New York, and Montreal, and has two children. Find out more at

Product Details

  • Publisher: Atria Books (January 4, 2011)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781439199138

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“Readers who enjoy well-written mainstream works like those of Richard Yates, Richard Russo, Jodi Picoult, and Jane Smiley will be happy to add Kennedy to their list of favorites.” —Library Journal

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