Stay With Me by Australian YA author Maureen McCarthy is narrated by Tess Browne, who has been living outside Byron Bay with her violent and abusive boyfriend, Jay, since she finished school. At the age of 21, a chance meeting with a couple on their way to Melbourne gives her a means of escape. She takes her three-year-old daughter, Nellie, and heads off to be reunited with family she hasn’t seen for four years, all the while knowing Jay will kill her if he catches up with her.
I know there are people who read the last page of a book first, and then go back to the beginning because otherwise they get too tense to enjoy the story. I am not one of those people. But Stay With Me is so suspenseful, I did find myself on occasion scanning the pages ahead, terrified of what might happen to Tess and Nellie.
Women escaping domestic violence often struggle to have their story believed, and I read a lot of crime novels that play with the idea of the woman being an ‘unreliable narrator’ (I’m looking at you, Gone Girl). But reading Stay With Me, I was never in any doubt that Tess was telling the truth. Her paranoia and panic attacks only added to the authenticity of her voice.
With a Royal Commission into Family Violence currently underway in Victoria, Stay With Me may help shed light on the phenomena behind the news headlines, such as why women in abusive relationships don’t ‘just leave’, and why women should not be treated as unreliable narrators in their own experience of violence.
That said, there is nothing preachy about this novel. Maureen McCarthy shows the brutal reality of family violence in the context of an absolutely thrilling read, with a cast of characters I could really care about. Highly recommended.
I will be interviewing Maureen McCarthy about Stay With Me at the Melbourne Writers Festival on Mon 24 August 2015 as part of the Schools Program. Feel free to suggest any questions you might have for Maureen in the comments box below.