Review: LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO by Megan Norris

lookwhatyoumademedonor30295_fI am a wuss. Sure I can take just about anything fictional murderers dish out but I am reluctant to read about their real world counterparts. In fiction the bad guys often get what’s coming to them. In reality they often don’t. And even if they do it is difficult to celebrate this when you know that real people have been hurt along the way. There is enough heartache and senseless violence in the news; I don’t feel the need to seek it out in my leisure reading. But I vowed that this year I would at least dip my toe into non-fictional crime as part of my role as wrangler of all-things-criminal for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. So I put on my big girl pants, placed several eligible books on hold at the library and as stoically as possible dove into LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO which came highly recommended and was the first of of my library holds to become available. I relay all of this as a kind of scene-setting I suppose. Letting you know that I did not approach this reading experience with the same hopeful anticipation I normally would and that true crime – or non-fiction about crime (and other things) which is what I feel this book is more accurately classed as – is not really my thing. Read this review in that light.

As book titles go I think LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO: FATHERS WHO KILL might be the best one I have ever encountered. It so utterly and completely encapsulates its subject matter. On a factual level the full title tells you what the book is about (not always a given) but the childish anger and inability to accept personal responsibility implicit in the sentiment of look what you made me do is the neatest summary you’ll find of a book’s central premise. Because this book is not about all types of fathers who kill their children (heaven help us that there are multiple categories but I refuse to be distracted by this right now). This is a book about men who kill their children as an act of revenge against their former wives and partners. The women who’ve dared to escape the abusive, controlling, often violence-filled lives these men impose.

As subject matters go it doesn’t get much grimmer than this. There’s a short, context-setting introduction which includes a survey of some studies on domestic and family violence and what limited research exists on the kinds of murder under the spotlight. This is followed by seven chapters which each focus on an Australian case ultimately proven to concern one or more children being killed by their father as an act of revenge against the mother of those children. Each of these chapters follows roughly the same format. We learn first of the circumstances of the death(s) then of the years of torment that led up to that point. Norris then details the steps taken to build a case against the men which, more often than not, involves truly heartbreaking discoveries of warning signs and lost opportunities for ‘something’ to have been done to prevent the escalation of violence in each case. Finally we learn a little of the lives of the women and remaining family members in the years since their respective tragedies irrevocably changed their lives. One case of this type is difficult enough to read about (as I learned last year reading Helen Garner’s THIS HOUSE OF GRIEF which covers the same case as chapter three of this book) but seven eerily and depressingly similar cases have an almost numbing effect in the end.

As journalist-authors go Norris is squarely on the side of the angels. Using observation of court proceedings and related events, extensive primary source research and interviews with people affected by or involved with each case the book reads first and foremost as truthful. Norris is clearly passionate and knowledgeable about this subject and the broader issue of domestic violence. The fact that she has gained the trust of so many women who are still traumatised by the events they have survived is a testament to her good intentions and genuine care. I can barely imagine how wary such women would be of the intrusion into their lives and potential for their circumstances to be misreported, misinterpreted and judged. And, although this book is harrowing from the first page to the last, it never feels exploitative or sensationalist.

As books go LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO left me feeling vaguely depressed and less vaguely impotent. There’s no doubt that the book’s subject matter is tough but Norris deals with it as sensitively as possible. However I can’t help wondering…what do I do now? Is there a bigger purpose of telling these stories than to shine a light on an almost unimaginable crime? If there is I missed it and if there isn’t, why not? I don’t mean to disrespect the women and extended family members whose personal horrors have been laid so bare but I want to know what someone like me could or should do with this information. Is it enough to be aware that such depravity can exist in the world? The book doesn’t make a compelling case for this as it showed repeatedly how various officials, experts and government agencies had prior awareness of the individuals concerned and/or the existence of a ‘thing’ known as “…spousal revenge in which children were collateral damage rather than the true targets of the offending parent’s rage.” Awareness appears to have been of precious little value in any of these cases.

LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO is well researched, solidly written and provides more evidence than any sane person could possibly need that there are indeed men who use their children as the ultimate weapon of revenge even though most of those men are so juvenile and self-absorbed they will present themselves as the injured party if they live to tell their pathetic tales. That I am uneasy because the book doesn’t do more…doesn’t tell me what to do now…says more about me than it does about the book itself. I hate the sense of injustice and powerlessness that discussion of non-fictional crime generates. That said, there are glimpses of hope here and there that things – things like community attitudes to domestic violence and official means of dealing with the complexities of domestic and family violence – are changing. Though if it feels agonisingly slow to me (the oldest murders discussed in this book occurred more than two decades ago after all) how glacial must it feel to those directly impacted by our communal and systemic failures? But perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps awareness is as good place as any to start. And then there is the amazing strength and resilience demonstrated by the real targets of the cruelty and cowardice displayed by the fathers in this book. Such women will surely be an inspiration to many.

aww2017-badgeThis is the first book I’ve read and reviewed for the sixth Australian Women Writers Challenge. For more information about the challenge check out my challenge progresssign up yourself or browse the Challenge’s database of reviews.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦
Publisher Echo [2016]
ISBN 9781760061638
Length 312 pages
Format paperback
Book Series n/a
Source of review copy borrowed from the library

This entry was posted in book review, Megan Norris (Aus) and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

14 Responses to Review: LOOK WHAT YOU MADE ME DO by Megan Norris

  1. Awareness is a good place to start – you wont believe how many people – ordinary men and women and professionals working with in the “system” who are not aware of this type of controlling power crazy deadly behaviour – some of is this is discussed in the book – where complaints were not taken seriously etc… awareness/education is the start, if you have read this book I think as individuals you might now recognise the signs and reach out to others in need , and if we work in the “system” maybe now will “feel” the ramifications and will step up/take seriously these type of complaints. I think the women here shared their stories so others will take warnings. They dont want this to happen to anyone else.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are clearly a more optimistic person than me Carol. My day job does tangentially expose me to some of this and I don’t see a lot of impetus for real and lasting systemic change. I see a heck of a lot of politics and a kind of ‘issue of the moment’ sensibility (as I have watched other similar issues come and go in the official consciousness). I’d like very much to be wrong though.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review, Bernadette, and great questions to ask. Wish I had some answers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. MarinaSofia says:

    I have a macabre interest in the subject (my WIP touches on this tangentially), but I certainly can understand your frustrations and feelings of impotence.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. kathy d. says:

    Oh, gosh, you were brave to even read this book. I stay away from true crime as the evening local news has more than enough for me. It’s so hard to deal with the issue focused on in this book. It’s beyond belief that men can kill their own children as revenge against their spouses or exes.
    Yet, I watched a TV show about 8 years ago with women whose estranged husbands had killed their children. One guy shot himself after he’d killed the three teenagers. One guy ended up in a facility for the severely mentally ill. The women were devastated, of course.
    But these stories are on the news. And then there are the men who kill the spouses or exes and the children.
    In fact, the Irish press months ago reported on a man in Clare who killed his spouse and three beautiful boys. There were criticisms by domestic violence charities and women journalists because the Irish newspapers painted him as a wonderful, generous man, great teacher, kind to all, who just snapped due to pressures at work. The guy had planned it all out and wrote notes to relatives saying that the family couldn’t go on without him. Just the worst controlling, self-aggrandizing stuff.
    And the women writers criticized the way he was depicted in the press, and also that in some newspapers it mentioned in headlines that he killed his children, didn’t even mention his wife.
    And the priest talked about what a wonderful man he was at the funeral. No mention of the evil he committed. Nor that this was the ultimate crime of domestic violence which women writers pointed out.
    I think that it is good to expose these crimes — but for the purpose of some social good — to inform women to take abuse seriously and get out of the situation and get help, to help promote domestic violence shelters and hotlines and other help for the women and children. Also, donations to these programs will also be useful.
    As for me, I’m not reading these books. Seeing the news is enough.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. kathy d. says:

    Good. It’s hard enough to see the local news … so many senseless tragedies with women and children. And so little mental health assistance.
    Anyway, you see what’s going on over here? Executive Order: Muslim, refugee ban. Protests at all major airports all around the country. ACLU got a stay temporarily.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Margot Kinberg says:

    No matter how well a topic is covered, Bernadette, I think caring people do get frustrated when there doesn’t seem to be much they can do. That feeling of helplessness is awful, so I’m not surprised you felt a little depressed. My thinking, for what it’s worth, is that being informed is the start to any change. Perhaps it’s the nerd-professor in me, but I am convinced that knowledge is a good thing, and the best place to start. I don’t know where that knowledge will lead, but productive action can’t come without it.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. tracybham says:

    I will go with Kathy’s statement. You were brave to read this. I would have to have really powerful motivation to read this. I have no background for my reactions or feelings on this matter, but it seems to me that little can be done when a person’s thoughts or emotions lead them to such horrible behavior.

    Liked by 1 person

    • No Tracy I don’t know that anything can be done at that point. I suppose everyone wants it to be easier to do something in advance…to prevent these hideous men getting the access they need to their children


  8. Jennifer says:

    I read quite a few true crime books. I don’t have any particularly rational reason to offer for doing so. Part of my rationale is awareness of the range of human behaviour, trying to understand the factors that come into play.

    Liked by 1 person

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