misses her chance to set the record straight in a book that adds little
to an extensive canon, writes Eilis O'Hanlon
Bantam Press, €22.99
Why Kate' From the moment that their daughter vanished from a rented
holiday apartment in Portugal's Praia da Luz resort, it was Gerry McCann
who provided the public face of the campaign to bring Madeleine home. He
was the one who dealt with reporters, set up websites, wrote a regular
blog updating the search. If anyone was going to write a book about that
time, it was surely Gerry who would've been expected to do it.
But it was always Kate who fascinated observers. Mothers are expected to
behave in certain ways and Madeleine's didn't seem to be playing her
role properly. She was criticised for being too cold, for not showing
her emotions more. The public can be cruel juries. They want their pound
of flesh. Four years on, with the fate of Madeleine still unknown, Kate
has now stepped forward to tell her own story -- though her motive for
doing so remains typically obstinate.
She may have kept a journal throughout the search, so that the couple's
twins, Sean and Amelie -- and Madeleine too, if and when she returned to
the family -- would know what happened during those terrible days, but
the only reason it is being released to a wider audience now is to fund
the continuing search for a missing child. "We are now the only people
looking for her," as Kate notes poignantly, and that takes money.
Whether it makes for much of a book is the difficulty.
It's hard to review this book with any objectivity, especially when it
is such an extraordinarily controlled piece of writing. In many ways,
the book suffers from the same shortcomings which led to Kate being
vilified so horribly in certain quarters. She's clearly an intensely
private person, for whom opening up does not come easily. Too often,
there is a sense in these pages of holding back. There are some highly
intimate details, for example about how she needed therapy to overcome
her "revulsion" at sex after the abduction, and she writes with piercing
intensity of her feelings of guilt, but it is as though these passing
details are masking what is otherwise a psychological absence at the
heart of the book.
After an initial preamble about her life before the holiday, the book
settles down into a pedestrian chronological account of the public
events that followed, peppered with asides about how she felt at certain
The Tapas Nine are shadowy figures throughout; we
never really get a sense of who they are. Goncalo Amaral, the Portuguese
police chief who became such a thorn in the couple's side, is a
peripheral presence. The night Madeleine went missing -- on which
everything hinges -- is dealt with in just a few pages. The exact state
of the room, and the comings and goings of the various characters in the
tale, remains frustratingly vague.
This was Kate's best chance to set the record straight, but the book
adds little to an already extensive canon. Time and again, her response
to allegations against them is simply to reiterate what they said in
statements at the time. It certainly won't change anyone's mind.
Supporters of the couple will focus on the passages describing her
harrowing grief and sense of guilt. Those who are suspicious will find
further fuel in the dismissive and perfunctory way in which Kate answers
some of the most serious allegations laid against the couple. When
specially trained cadaver dogs, for example, detect the scent of death
in the family's apartment, Kate is quick to highlight the unreliability
of sniffer dogs. It makes absolute sense insofar as they know they
didn't do anything to harm their beloved daughter.
But as a parent, surely you'd be terrified by what the dogs sensed' The
fact that a strong indication of death had been found at the scene
immediately raises the likelihood that something terrible happened to
your daughter in that room; but Kate and Gerry are almost militant in
their belief that their daughter is not dead. "Madeleine is alive until
someone proves otherwise," she still insists. Maybe that's the only way
you can carry on -- Kate does admit to having terrible visions
intermittently of her daughter being abused and killed -- but the
response still feels unsatisfactory
Perhaps that's just repeating the original error of wanting more from
Kate McCann than she is willing or able to give. All too often she
writes like a spectator to events, not a participant. Therapeutically,
that may be a common reaction in people who have undergone traumatic
experiences, but it makes for a weirdly detached and uninvolving book.
It's almost as if Madeleine isn't the only one who went missing that
night, but Kate as well.
- Eilis O'Hanlon