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Book Review: Still Waters by Camilla Nolli

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If I had to use one word to describe Still Waters, it would be ‘disturbing’. This novel, while utterly readable, deals with such horrifying subject matter that it is impossible not to be repulsed and/or horrified after reading it.

Still Waters is told from the perspective of an unnamed narrator – a mother who finds herself disliking and resenting her two children (both under the age of two) more and more each day, as she feels they are gradually sucking her life and freedom away. Once a high-powered advertising executive, our narrator now finds herself pandering to all the needs and desires of her children, whilst her husband excels in his career. Camilla Noli’s writing is wonderfully evocative, and while the reader can never empathise with the narrator, we can begin to slightly understand some of the reasons why she is so antagonistic towards her children.

The narrator in Still Waters is clearly a very needy woman, which is (in my opinion) one of the reasons that help explain her actions throughout the book. She is used to having her husband, Daniel – and men in general – totally besotted by her, and unable to resist her charms. After the birth of her first child, Cassie, Daniel’s attention shifts, so that now Cassie is just as important (albeit in a very different way) to him as his wife is. The narrator however, doesn’t understand why she should have to share her husband’s love with her baby, and begins to resent Cassie for taking away affection that she feels entitled to. I don’t think that the needy personality of the narrator excuses her actions throughout the book, but after realizing this facet of her personality, it is easier to see some sort of motivation for her actions.

Additionally, the narrator of Still Waters leads her readers to believe that she never wanted children; it was Daniel who pushed her into creating a family. In light of this fact, it is easier to see why she may resent her children – they were the reason why she had to leave the high-powered job she adored, they were the reason why she lost her feminine sexuality (or so she believes), they were the reason why her husband (in her mind) stopped looking at her as his wife and lover and chose to see her only as his children’s mother majority of the time, and they were the reason why she constantly felt utterly exhausted, unable to maintain an intelligent conversation with anyone. In short, our (possibly unreliable, untrustworthy) narrator gave up her life for something she didn’t even want. This in no way explains many of her hostile thoughts and actions however, and the reader often gets the impression that this woman has some very severe mental health issues.

Easily the most disturbing aspect of Still Waters was the manner in which the narrator spoke about her actions and feelings towards her children. She did not care one iota about them or about their well-being. She is a thoroughly selfish creature, who willingly admits her selfishness to the reader. If forced to make a choice between herself and her children, the reader did not doubt that she would choose herself. In fact, the narrator didn’t even have to be forced to make a choice, she chose to try and reclaim the sense of identity she possessed prior to having children willingly and eagerly. That a mother can be this cold and self-obsessed is one of the most chilling parts of the book. Readers experience first hand the manner in which the narrator treats her children, something which leaves a leaden feeling in the stomach and (as cliché as it sounds) sometimes sends chills down the spine. It is impossible to empathise with (or even completely understand) this woman and readers feel an almost overwhelming sense of sorrow for the characters who try to stop the narrator’s destruction of all those around her.

Still Waters is one of the most disturbing books I have read in a long while, yet I also found it very enjoyable and a definite page-turner. It was not a pleasant book to read as far as subject matter is concerned, but it was incredibly interesting and thought-provoking, as well as being well written. This is a book with themes and characters you will find yourself thinking about long after the last page has been turned.

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