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The Woman Before Me - Ruth Dugdall I understand now why this book was chosen for our book club. There is so much going on, so many levels to the story.

Rose has served 4 years of a six year sentence for manslaughter. Convicted of starting a fire that killed a 3 month old baby. She admits she was in the house, in the middle of night, but denied started the fire - started by a cigarette of the same brand that she smoked. She would never had hurt baby Luke - she loved him, even though he wasn't hers.

It's Cate Austins job to decide if Rose is ready for probation. A single mother, starting a new job at a prison, after taking six months off from her previous job for depression.

A lot of the story is told through journal entries that Rose writes to her boyfriend Jason. She describes her childhood, her mother, who suffered from crippling bouts of depression, her brother with learning difficulties and her father who spent all his time running their little shop in Lowestoft, except for those moments when one of the local women would come in and desperately need something urgent from the stock room.

Rose never felt loved, she doesn't relate to people. She unknowingly triggers the events that lead to her mothers suicide. Following which her fathers girlfriend slowly moves into their home and ultimately engineers Rose's move away to Felixstowe to live with her aunt.

By the age of sixteen Rose is all alone, following her Aunt's death and ends up working and living in a hotel - where she meets Jason.

She falls hopelessly in love with Jason, but he doesn't love her, can't love her because he's still in love with his ex-wife (who's already re-married but it doesn't stop her "spending time" with Jason). Rose believes the only way she can keep Jason with her is to have a baby with him, which works initially. Until the time Rose goes into labour, after an arguement with Jason in which he pushes her and then doesn't believe she's hurt.

Baby Joel spends his short life in the Neo Natal unit, but while in the hospital Rose is befriended by Emma, who's just given birth to baby Luke. Emma is Jason's ex-wife and Luke looks a lot like Jason.

Following Joels death Rose is distraught, after bumping into Emma in a local supermarket she becomes obessessed with Luke. Angry that Emma has taken her family from her, knowing that Emma doesn't deserve Luke she actively stalks them. But did she really start the fire that killed Luke?

The final chapter of this book, where Cate learns the terrible secrets that Rose has been hiding really touched me. To know that a woman could be so terribly changed by the things she has lived through, to be so desperate for love and to keep the one thing she loves purely out of harms way in such drastic terms. To see the effect of other peoples betrayal on her was quite frightening.

An extremely good book, about a very difficult subject.