The Mistake is a debut work from Katie McMahon told from the points of view of sisters Bec and Kate. Bec, the younger sister, is on the verge of taking a path that will lead her away from her surgeon husband, three young children, and comfortable life in a big house in Hobart. Kate immerses herself in academia while living quietly in a high rise in Melbourne, and has just started dating for the first time in many years after an event that changed the shape of her life on every level. These sisters are very different from each other, and it is both a source of comfort and bitterness to each of them; they have been cast against each in the cursed binary of ‘the smart one’ and ‘the pretty one’, and have let this define them more than they ever meant or wanted to.

Although McMahon casts these women as relatable in their approach to personal struggles, difficult choices, and the way they each handle the cards that life has dealt them, they also come across as judgmental, cruel, and privileged in their respective outlooks (and in their attitudes towards themselves as well). I found this very jarring for the first few chapters and didn’t really warm to the characters until nearly halfway through the story. I was also surprised that there wasn’t more comeuppance or character growth in this area; their characters do develop, but their shallow verdicts of others—in particular Kate’s harsh judgements of everyone she meets—aren’t really met with any consequences or realisations that maybe dismissing someone for having uneven skin is a very unhealthy way of looking at the world.

McMahon’s storytelling kept me gripped through most of the book, and without wanting to give too much away, the ‘mistake’ indicated by the title could be attributed to a number of events in the characters’ pasts and present. The way in which the story unfolds is very well done; every time I felt I knew the characters, a new layer of their past choices would be revealed in a slow backward-peeling of the sisters’ relationship that led to the final and unexpected event at the end.

This book is ideal for book club discussions and is relevant to anyone who might be interested in dissecting the inner lives of others, particularly those who seem to ‘have it all’. Although the novel doesn’t start with anything particularly intriguing, you soon find yourself being pulled along in a riptide of unravelling lives and revelations of the past.

I was provided a free copy of this book by the publisher in return for an honest review.

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