Customer Reviews (1)
Now and then a book comes along that can never be forgotten, a book whose characters touch you deeply and remain in your memory. A story that shocks you into thinking about something you had never considered or completely changing your previous perceptions.
The Care Vortex by Sam Smith is such a book.
Sam Smith skilfully combines the interaction of his characters with quotes from fictional publications and case notes in his book, The Care Vortex. He challenges his reader to think carefully about the issues raised, to want to do something to change things for the better. He shows the daily struggles of the people employed to deal with the troubled girls whose lives he probes, as well as the difficulties the girls have learning to trust again, coming to terms with their past in order to try to find a future.
In the first chapter we meet Barry Gresham, a fat disillusioned care worker. He is driving to work and, just like many of us, is idly wondering about taking a different turning and not going into work at all. But, again like many of us, common sense, mortgage payments and a sense of duty prevail and he arrives at Bridge House.
He unlatches the gate and crosses the bridge that separates Bridge House from the village, just as the inmates are separated from the rest of society, and there we meet the girls. They are introduced gradually, in a manner that allows you to form an impression then re-evaluate it when you are presented with their case notes.
Strange, suicidal Una with her "white face" and "eyes of stone", who needs more help than she can receive at Bridge House but will not be transferred because the greedy owners want to hold onto the money they get paid for keeping her there.
Pretty and promiscuous Gemma, whose notes are marked with the warning that she might have contacted AIDs or hepatitis.
Holly, who has learning difficulties and is easily led, anxious to be accepted by the other girls.
Pam, who deliberately cuts herself in self-mutilation and is considered at risk of committing suicide because of her shocking history of sexual abuse.
Chloe, who is clever yet lacking in confidence. One of the youngest at the home, she can "vomit at will'.
Abbie, the youngest, who is fearful of the other girls, especially Crystal.
Crystal, feared by the girls and the staff, but who had experienced a happy home life until her father died in a car accident. Her mother turned to prostitution to pay the bills, drawing Crystal into it until, at the age of thirteen, she was also working the streets.
Fran, loud-mouthed and clever, steals and lies to get her own way. Coming from a family of criminals, it is in crime that she sees her future.
The staff who are there to help these girls have their own problems.
Barry struggles to exist and bring up his children on low wages, knowing that he could earn more elsewhere. He is tired of the inconsistencies of the owners and worn out from dealing with the girls.
Diane, divorced with one daughter with whom she has a difficult relationship, is fearful of everything, but particularly of losing her job.
Petra feels like an outsider, envies Barry and Diane for their close working relationship and is elated when she feels they have done something wrong.
The Care Vortex follows the lives of these people through a single day and night, a visit to the seaside, a trip to the fair. Sam Smith shows immense skill in showing these events, subtly switching points of view to show them through the eyes of all his characters.
There are moments in this book that will shock you and some that will touch you.
Two of the girls hide out in a bedroom to sniff furniture polish. Three others elude their carers and get drunk, their drinking funded by having sex with boys they picked up at the fair. One girl, in retaliation for a beating, sneaks downstairs in the night to get a knife, intent on getting her revenge.
In one of the more touching scenes of this book Crystal tells Gemma about her hopes for the future, about wanting control of her life. She then goes on to warn a stranger who gives them a lift about driving too fast, telling him that she had a normal life with loving parents and it was only because of her fathers death that she has found herself in this situation.
Perhaps that is one of the most shocking things about this story. These children were not born into care. They are there because of what has been done to them. They are ordinary children who have been abused and ill treated, trying desperately to work out what they did to deserve such treatment.
The Care Vortex is fast paced, interesting and believable. The characters are all too human, people like you and I. Ordinary people trying to deal with unimaginable events.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, without reservation. It is not an easy book to read, because of the subject and the issues raised in it. When Charles Dickens wrote Oliver Twist he was criticised for using criminals and prostitutes, in writing about subjects that were considered taboo. Yet Oliver Twist is now regarded as a classic, not only an excellent story, but a book that changed attitudes and made people wake up and take notice. Perhaps one day the same thing will be said of The Care Vortex.
If you want to read a book that will lull you to sleep at night, this book is not for you. It is no Little Orphan Annie with pretty pig-tailed children and fairy tale endings. Those trapped in the Care Vortex are damaged, the details harrowing. But for all that, it is a story of heroism, of people reaching out to each other and trying to overcome what has been done.
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