Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 28, 2016

Ricochet Baby (1996), by Fiona Kidman

Ricochet BabyRicochet Baby is one of those books that leaves me wondering, how do people manage to get their lives back on track when they’ve got into such a muddle?

Roberta is a young woman whose first pregnancy means a first grandchild, and everyone is delighted though it looks like there may be some trouble over religious differences and ways of parenting.  But when Roberta unexpectedly gives birth early, when a sudden impulse has taken her from her work at the taxation office to a defaulting taxpayer called Josh, the trouble that erupts goes way beyond what the reader is expecting.  Josh is not the sort of middle-class person that the family is used to, but his presence at the birth invests him with a de facto family status that no one quite understands.  Roberta’s husband Paul makes a suspicious mountain out of a molehill instead of being grateful to the bloke who took care of his wife when she was in labour.

And then Roberta gets post natal depression, and discovers that she doesn’t fit into her prosaic middle-class life properly…

It’s all very well for health professionals to tell people that they should seek help, but Ricochet Baby shows how things can spiral out of control when a mother who can’t cope ‘abandons’ her baby to the care of someone else.  Roberta leaves the baby with her wholly inadequate mother, but Nathan ends up with his father and the father’s new girlfriend.  The inevitable custody battle looks like a foregone conclusion: Kidman captures perfectly the supercilious tone of the father’s barrister when he alludes to the psych ward as if to label her as a bad mother for the rest of her life.

Ricochet Baby could easily have been a misery to read, but what lifted it out of a commonplace domestic drama was the hovering, mostly off-stage presence of Josh and the introduction of a zany character called Wendy.  Kidman is very good at inventing female outsider characters in all sorts of settings, whether it is the story of Jean Batten the pioneering aviatrix (The Infinite Air, 2013) or Betty Guard, captured by Maori after a shipwreck (The Captive Wife, 2005).  Wendy turns up like a disreputable Mary Poppins blown in on the wind at the farm where Roberta grew up,  and takes her alcoholic mother in hand.  Wendy moves in (much to the dismay of Roberta’s father Glass), and the women spend whimsical hours together, talking and gardening like old friends. But Wendy, who has a problematic relationship with her daughter Sarah, has an agenda of her own which isn’t revealed until the taut ending of the book.

Fiona Kidman is one of New Zealand’s finest writers and this one from her backlist doesn’t disappoint.

Author: Fiona Kidman
Title: Ricochet Baby
Publisher: Vintage, an imprint of Random House New Zealand, 1996
ISBN: 1869413040 / 9781869413040
Source: personal library, purchased for a song from Brotherhood Books.

There were six second-hand copies at Fishpond on the day I looked, prices starting at $AUD12.00 : Ricochet Baby



  1. I notice you put a tag of nicole-kidman on this post. Is that an accident or is there some connection?


    • ROTFL, oh dear me, that was a two o’clock in the morning moment. I was so tired last night I fell asleep at nine without putting the dog out in the garden last thing, So she woke up at 1.30 needing to ‘go’ and then I couldn’t get back to sleep so I finished the book and wrote the review.
      I think there’s a moral there but I’m too tired to see what it is right now.
      Thank you for your tactful comment, it’s good to have friends to set me straight:)


  2. I should have read more of her, but haven’t. Enjoyed The Infinite Air and I ave The Captive Wife on the shelf, sounds interesting as does this one.


    • Oh, do drop everything and read it, I’d love to see a review of that to refresh my memories of it. I did so love that book…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh you should my pile! It’s the month when I think I’m going to read lots and I’ve created a monster of a pile, ok adding The Captive Wife, what the heck :)


  3. Fiona is fantastic … have just done a big interview with her for the Academy of NZ Lit. Will post a link once it’s up. In the meantime give her short stories a whirl … there’s a very good reason why she’s compared to Alice Munro.


    • Hello Kelly, thanks for your comment. Yes, I’d love to see that interview!


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