Dilemmas and Consequences in the South Lakes – ‘The Mistake I Made’ by Paula Daly

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Is the ‘immoral’ choice sometimes the best choice? What lengths would you go to in order to keep your head above water?

Cumbrian author Paula Daly returns with her third novel, The Mistake I Made. As with her previous two novels, the highly-popular Just What Kind of Mother Are You? and Keep Your Friends Close, her latest offering is a psychological thriller set in the Lake District. This is a story that causes you to ask yourself: “What would I do in this situation?” It’s not always comfortable, it’ll get under your skin, and you’ll be glad you don’t have to provide an answer for real.

The central character of the story is Roz, a physiotherapist and single mother whose debt situation has left her with no furniture and facing eviction from her home. However, an introduction to Scott, a wealthy married friend of Roz’s sister, leads to an offer that could absolve her of all financial burden and give her and her son a fresh start. The offer, while suggested in as agreeably a fashion as possible by the amiable Scott, is somewhat uncouth. Think Indecent Proposal, in Hawkshead. But, as Roz’s situation worsens, she finds herself wrestling with her conscience and her need to provide a stable life for her son:

‘No one was going to come and rescue me from my financial situation in which I found myself. I either lay down and surrendered, conceded defeat, or I found a way to keep going.’

Roz’s narrative voice is trademark Paula Daly: honest, unpretentious and darkly funny – I smiled when I probably shouldn’t have! Roz exuberates a sense of deadpan humour, particularly when dealing with overbearing, amorous patients (Daly herself used to be a physiotherapist – I wonder if Roz’s experiences are inspired by her own?!). Though at times Roz is frustrating, she is an endearing protagonist and it is difficult not to root for her as she faces the dire consequences of her decisions.

As in Daly’s previous novels, this is a multi-layered story with unexpected twists and revelations about the characters. And, not uncommon of a psychological thriller, there are hints along the way (Daly is masterfully subtle in doing this), but even the most astute reader will be susceptible to an unexpected ‘Oh!’ moment at several points. A major point about Paula: she enjoys stripping away at facades layer-by-layer, and there is no such thing as a perfect family, marriage or person.

Residents and visitors of the Bowness and Windermere area will recognise the setting in which Roz lives and works, commuting daily on the ferry across Lake Windermere surrounded by ‘pretty mansions’, ‘slate-topped fells’ and of course eager ‘tourists taking photos of each other.’ She also captures Tarn Hows perfectly, ‘pretty cobalt’ or ‘inky black’ depending on the weather, but always picturesque.

Tarn Hows Lake District National Park blue sky

Tarn Hows, Coniston

Paula Daly will be talking at Borderlines Book Festival in Carlisle this Sunday, September 6th. I’m looking forward to this one!

Tickets and information here: www.borderlinescarlisle.co.uk/paula-daly/

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