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Madeleine McCann: Julie Myerson And Me

by | 3rd, June 2011

WHO better than Julie Myerson to review Kate McCann’s book Madeleine book in the New Statesman? Myerson is the ambitious and talented author who turned living with her three children into a Guardian column called Living with Teenagers and then wrote a book called The Lost Child: a True Story, in which she wrote about kicking her weed-smoking 17-year-old son out of the family home.

Under the headline “A very public agony”, Myerson – who turned her own agonises into an orchestrated spectacle with a cover price – writes:

One May afternoon in 2007 in Praia da Luz, Portugal, barely 48 hours before their daughter Madeleine disappeared, Kate and Gerry McCann took their three young children down to the beach. It began to rain, and the children were grumpy, but the promise of an ice cream worked its magic.

Anyone still reading might wonder how this is going to help in the hunt for the missing girl? That is, after all, the only reason to cover this story, isn’t it?

Kate and the kids sat on a bench as Gerry went over to the shop, about 25 feet away. When he called to Kate to come and give him a hand with the five ice creams, she was “momentarily torn. Would the children be OK on the bench while I nipped over? I hurried across, watching them all the time.”

Anyone still reading? This is yet another chance to gawp at the parents. Sure, Kate McCann has invited it upon herself by writing a book. Myerson is selecting the passages to highlight. This is not a review of a book. This is a sentimental story of “what if?…” and “there for the grace of god..”

Life as a parent, as anyone with children knows, is crammed with such split-second judgements and (sometimes) misjudgements…

And we have gone nowhere. Was leaving their children alone in the holiday flat a split-second judgement? Myserson is placing thoughts and opinion in place of details and fact. She is spinning the single thread story, adding no light, just heat.

…so when the McCanns’ story hit the press just a couple of days after that afternoon ice cream, parents all over the world caught their breath, recognising the situation. Would we have chosen to eat dinner while our children slept, unguarded, a matter of yards away? Some of us would, some of us wouldn’t, but I doubt there is a parent on this earth who hasn’t negotiated with their child’s safety in similar ways at one time or another.

Speculation. Speculation. Speculation. And it keeps coming:

Much of the comment certainly has been negative. Even now, I am not sure I understand how the McCanns came to be considered as arguidos (named suspects). Although I imagine that the Portuguese police would offer a different version of some of the events described here, no UK official believed that the McCanns were in any way responsible for their daughter’s disappearance.

And we are back to talking about the conniving foreigners and the clear-thinking British. How does Myerson knows that British officials believe? Is belief only ever expressed in print and recorded word? The fact is that the McCanns are not suspects. End of.

As for the book:

Kate McCann is not a writer and makes no claims to be one – the power of her book lies in its straightforward, chatty ordinariness. It is hard, too, not to admire its complete lack of self-pity, bolstered by the McCanns’ uncomplicated though sorely tested religious faith. The agony lies in the small, casual detail.

After a potted story of Kate McCann’s regrets and what ifs, Myserosn notes:

The story of how Madeleine went missing need not be repeated here, but the book gives us what the press never could: a sense of the misery of that first night and those that followed.

Well, no. Reporting is stymied a little by access to Kate McCann and her media handler Clarence Mitchell. This book is in her own words. That much is true.

…If Kate McCann doesn’t feel she deserves to be forgiven, it is striking nevertheless that this is a boldly empathetic and forgiving book. She writes without bitterness about the people whose correspondence goes straight into the “nutty box”.

And that is the thing: rather than being the search for a missing child, the story is about those who like the McCanns and those who do not.

…Even though I am sure there is a readership for Madeleine, many others will feel free to discuss and comment on the book without having read it. I would urge them to be as kind and non-judgemental as Kate McCann has been. Although she and Gerry come across as remarkably strong – clearly their love for their two remaining children, together with the search for Madeleine, has kept them going – I don’t think anyone should underestimate how vulnerable they are.

Is she reviewing the book, or the writers? Or, in fairness, are the two things inseparable? Who buys the book who does not already know the story?

To endure tragedy of this sort, followed by relentless press attention, leaves you raw, your skin feeling stripped right off. [Myerson was attacked in the press over her own tomes about her kidzzz.] One night almost a year after they lost Madeleine, the couple woke in the night in Leicester to find the whole room shaking. “With the occasional death threat turning up in our morning mail, it is perhaps not surprising that our first instinct was to think we were being attacked.”

Thankfully the “attack” turned out to be an earth tremor. You hope for the McCanns’ sake that, whether or not they ever discover what happened to their daughter, the agonising rawness – like the tremor – will eventually subside to nothing.

Meanwhile, the innocent child is missing…

Spotter: Karen



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