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Madeleine by Kate McCann

Madeleine by Kate McCann Part 1 Madeleine by Kate McCann Part 2 Madeleine by Kate McCann Part 3
Original Source: BLACKSMITH BUREAU : 14 JUNE 2011
By John Blacksmith
Tuesday, 14 June 2011 at 00:10

Hopes that the extreme caution with which the McCanns have previously discussed the disappearance of their daughter might be moderated in Madeleine take something of an early blow: in the acknowledgements section M/S McCann credits, in addition to the normal celebrity quotient of editors, agents and publicists, no fewer than four lawyers (including Mr. E "Expunge" Smethurst and Adam Tudor of Carter Ruck) and thanks them not merely for their assistance but for their part in completing the book. 

       They may, of course, just have been refreshing her memory of the litigation that the couple has been involved in since 2008; or their collaboration may have taken a different form. Whichever it is their silent presence in the gap between page and reader suggests that both newsworthy revelations and glaring inconsistencies are going to be in short supply. Nevertheless for students of the case the book is a worthwhile read, first and least valuably as a memoir, secondly as a historical source and lastly as a self-portrait.
       Regarding the first, as a simple celebrity-cum-misery memoir it isn't bad at all. M/S McCann eschews the use of a ghost writer and, despite what we've read of her execrable "diaries", knows how to put a sentence together. The early pages, indeed, are the best and least self-conscious in the book as she writes lightly and without sentimentality of her Liverpool background and childhood.

       Her descriptions of student life and the early years of her relationship with Gerry McCann are less spontaneous, singing more of the celebrity literary agents' demand for background colour than any strong desire to share her memories. Life in New Zealand and the Netherlands floats by with almost no comment on the culture or population of the two countries, in contrast to her tale of attempts to have children which, as an erstwhile obstetrician, she recounts in considerable detail. About medicine as a vocation she has nothing to say and none of her patients are ever portrayed, anonymously or otherwise. She writes that she had no particular interest in a medical career ? it was more a matter of deciding between the various opportunities that her undoubted academic ability and determination (and she is modest about these) offered her. With the birth of her children the conventional narrative of early ambitions achieved and human happiness attained is complete. Despite the unoriginality of the tale ? which is the fault of the industr
y, not M/S McCann ? this is an adult speaking, not a celebrity creation, comfortable with her judgements and decisions and, up to a certain point, confident in her identity.

       Thus the curtain is raised on the drama the reader is most interested in: between May and October 2007 M/S McCann suffered the loss of her daughter, became a world-wide "misery celebrity" with unrestricted access to the corridors of the great and a developing taste for travel in private jets and then, in an altogether Hitchcockian twist, was accused of involvement in the disappearance of her own child before finding eventual sanctuary in her homeland. This transformation in her fortunes was matched, at giddying speed, by her portrayal in the media ? from glamorous but stoical heroine to a rag doll stripped of all privacy and dignity in a matter of weeks. How she and her husband handled these switchback changes in their fortunes together with the public's perception of events provides the heart of the book, with the police investigation into their possible guilt provoking the most strongly felt and dramatic writing in the whole work.

       Soon after their return to the UK the drama is essentially over. The pathos of Clarence Mitchell's press conference in front of their Rothley home, with the pair standing mute in his long shadow like a pair of dejected, sagging, criminals, remains sharp in the memory. Behind the scenes, however, and starting with a three and a half hour legal defence meeting on the day they landed in England, one of the most expensive and powerful legal teams in modern British history was being assembled. Given the paucity of the Portuguese police case against the pair ? a large box full of loose ends ? the defence effort seems disproportionate to any actual danger that threatened them and the tension inevitably falls away. What follows becomes something of a public report in which her campaigning work in child protection and her various interviews and public appearances are described in considerable, not to say tedious, detail. Meanwhile the exhausting, exhaustive and at times hysterically absurd campaign to find her daughter uncovers absolutely nothing, nada, not a single lead

       Personalities are naturally described in limited ? i.e. non-existent ? depth according to the conventions of the genre. It is not easy for it to be otherwise when writing about living people who may still have a part, however obscure, to play; Goncalo Amaral, unsurprisingly, is the subject of scorn and bewilderment at his supposed lack of human feeling and his determination, according to Kate McCann, to stop the world searching for Madeleine. Little is said, though no doubt much could be written, about the various chancers and scoundrels who offered their services ? at a price ? to help locate the child.

       Despite the collaborating lawyers and the ever-present sensation of a text having being under microscopic scrutiny before being allowed to reach the paying reader there are one or two minor surprises. The extremely active role of the grandly named but only recently founded International Family Law Group in the parents' affairs in the early days, including their part in the establishment of the controversial family fund, their pressing suggestions that Madeleine should be made a ward of court and their introduction of some serious mercenaries-cum- private investigators from the Control Risks group, is bound to raise questions about their judgement. The IFLG was also intimately involved in the couple's ill-fated legal move to lay hands on Leicester police files on the case in summer 2008. M/S McCann gives a brief extract from the (previously confidential) Leicester police response to the action which stated, essentially, that there was "no clear evidence" to eliminate the couple from involvement in the child's disappearance and therefore they would not entrust them with the requested files. The LP position remains unchanged: the files are still denied to the parents.

       M/S McCann's feelings of having been abandoned by British "authorities" ? she doesn't really do the separation of powers thing ? once she is made arguida are revealed as the mirror image of Amaral's sense of abandonment by his own chiefs, though no doubt some readers will see deep currents beneath the apparently obvious truth of her comments. She explicitly denies any premonitions about Madeleine's well-being in Praia da Luz ? somewhat surprising given the equally explicit statements of some of her friends on the question. And new to me, at least, is the Portuguese police claim that a witness saw her and her husband carrying something in a large black bag on the evening of May 3.

       The conclusion of the book exhibits a certain tension. The celebrity/misery memoir rules demand an upbeat ending; M/S McCann is OK with that but is uneasy about how the public might judge her if she is, well, too happy, given the circumstances of a missing child, fate unknown. Still, she manages it well enough, just as she manages the burden of her guilt. The knowledge that she is a stronger and more able woman now than she was a couple of years ago helps her, she says, to "shake off" a little of that guilt. Such questions as the real meaning of guilt, together with Kate McCann's Catholic conception of it, take us away from the celebrity memoir and on to the much more complex area of Madeleine's value as a true self-portrait, a subject that we will soon turn to. For the moment we can leave her with her book successfully completed, staring sensitively into the distance, alone ? apart from the presence at her side of Bill Scott-Kerr, Sally Gaminara, Janine Giovanni and Alison Barrow, all of Transworld publishers, Neil Blair and Christopher Little, her agents, the aforesaid quartet of lawyers and her friend Claudia from the Portuguese PR company Lift Consulting ? sad but beautiful, stronger for her suffering. Cue music and credits.



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