The Accusation: shows just how easily we will believe anything

The Accusation book review

What is this about?: Suzannah is a drama teacher in a small town when she’s accused of the attempted kidnapping of media darling (now) Ellie. All the evidence points to her …

What else is this about?: The power of belief, and how much we sometimes want to believe in utterly the wrong things


A bizarre abduction. A body of damning evidence. A world of betrayal.

Eighteen-year-old Ellie Canning is found shivering and barely conscious on a country road, clad only in ill-fitting pyjamas. Her story of kidnap and escape quickly enthrals the nation: a middle-aged woman with a crazy old mother has held Ellie in a basement, chained her to a bed and given her drinks from an old baby’s sippy cup. But who was this woman and what did she want with Ellie? And what other secrets might she hide?

When the accusation is levelled at local teacher Suzannah Wells, no one seems more bewildered than Suzannah herself … to start with. The preposterous charge becomes manifestly more real as she loses her job and her friends. And the evidence is strong: a dementia-affected mother, a house with a basement, a sippy cup that belonged to her long-dead daughter. And Ellie Canning’s DNA everywhere. As stories about Susannah’s past emerge, even those closest to her begin to doubt she’s innocent.

And Ellie? The media can’t get enough of her. She’s a girl-power icon, a social-media star. But is she telling the truth?

A powerful exploration of the fragility of trust, and the power of suggestion, from the author of The Golden Child and The Mistake.

The Accusation is one of those books that is going to be hard to review, because the strength of this story is in the characterisation wrapped around a deceptively simple plot. And also spoilers bc I am trying hard not to give any way.

Suzannah and her mother Mary have moved to a small town, where she has taken up a job as a drama teacher at a school while she cares for her mother, Mary, who has a form of dementia. Suzannah is pretty much trying to find her feet after leaving Sydney in this town, and the things that play on her mind include making sure Mary is having a good day, she’s done all her marking and is trying to make some friends — like Honor, a media person who lived in their town.

Suzannah also starts a relationship with her neighbour, Chip, and begins to dare to think she could be happy.

At the same time, Suzannah is basically living her life, Ellie is found after escaping a kidnapper — an older woman and another, who seemed to be her mother, and becomes a media darling. Everyone wants a piece of her — news shows, magazines, talk shows — and every word of hers is taken as gospel, as empowering women.

Then she identifies Suzannah and Mary as her kidnappers.

Yup, p**p hits the fan 

Suzannah is arrested and charged with kidnapping Ellie. And the thing is, all the evidence is there. She is bewildered, and confused and feels like she’s just being swept up in something. Chip is standing by her, and gets his brother to defend her even as the evidence seems insurmountable.

James also includes the role the internet plays in amplifying the situation and convicting Suzannah before she actually gets to court. In the same vein, the internet and our thirst for someone to latch on to, to want to believe in I guess, drives Ellie’s celebrity in being the survivor of this kidnapping.

As I said above, the characterisation in this is brilliant — Suzannah is as believable as the evidence is convicting her. But nothing is what it seems here — and I would argue that Mary is probably the most truthful of every character in this book.

There are layers to this book and its characters and as James reveals her characters for who they are I was struck by how it was contrasted to the overall slice of normal life atmosphere that James created. James’ skill at balancing the tension that comes with her plot and their secrets and the atmosphere of normality around her characters is outstanding.


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