The Mistake follows the life of Jodie Garrow, a woman who is living the life of her dreams. It's a life she has carefully constructed, built up from her childhood dreams. Her husband, Angus, is an old-moneyed, good looking lawyer with political aspirations. Her children Hannah and Tom are thriving in expensive, high performing schools. Jodie lives in a good neighbourhood, in a nice home, with supportive friends and does regular charity work. She has all she ever wanted, but Jodie has a secret in her past that no one in her perfect family knows about, and its impending revelation threatens everything Jodie holds dear.
The Mistake is a super-fast, engaging read that has the intensity of a thriller, with the compelling psychological complexity and deep thematics of literary fiction. Jodie’s development is subtle, moving between an internal and external perspective that contrasts Jodie’s slick, calm demeanour with her inner turmoil. The book mingles reflection and memory with perception and superficial judgement. Initially Jodie’s calm has a similar effect on the reader as it does on the narrative public – it distances us. However, as the story progresses, we learn more and more of Jodie’s unhappy upbringing – her unloving mother and missing father:
"All Jodie wants, all she has ever wanted, is a life without grubbiness, without chaos, a life that follows a clear trajectory of progress, of achievement. Surely, she thinks, it isn’t that much to ask" (187).
There are plenty of villains in the story. The most pervasive is Angus himself, with his easy, privileged infidelities, though he does begin to grow a little through his panic attacks, fear, and pain. A less complex villain is Angus’ hideously snobby mother, who achieves an unambiguously Dickensian unpleasantness. Jodie’s false friends are also antagonists who begin to creep away when her secret becomes public. The biggest villain, however, is the general public that is quick to judge, and takes such great Schadenfreude in Jodie's misfortunes. The story pivots on these antagonists, and brings in a broader philosophical perspective about the role of the media and the public’s hunger for voyeurism: