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The harrowing of Kate McCann


Kate McCann

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 moments.

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

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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.

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