The Henry Experiment
When Anna finds a barefoot boy on Hampstead Heath, early in the morning she promptly escorts him home. Expecting gratitude, she is shocked by the hostility from the boy's father. He tells her that he "allows the boy to roam" and that she should leave them alone. She calls the police and the next day is told that they are satisfied with the explanation from the parents about why their child was alone on the heath so early in the morning.
The father turns out to be a child psychologist, a popular 'expert' on parenting and a proponent of the 'roaming child' theory. One of this theories is that at the age of seven, boys must be separated from their mothers and toughened up and tested in the natural world in order to grow up as a fully rounded, non-dependent adult. Anna starts to watch over odd, clever, unhappy Henry and strikes up a secret friendship with him. Anna's children have recently left home and she longs for the days when they were young and she knew what her role was. Is her interest in the child purely a concern for his welfare, or more a nostalgia for when she knew she was needed by her children?
Henry becomes the pawn in an escalating, scary game as Anna and Professor Henderson prowl around each other, each refusing to give an inch. The reader is unsure which one is unstable and where there loyalties should lie. As the tension mounts, their own carefully constructed lives start to unravel. Both Anna and the Professor's childhood starts to bear down on them and reveal how much parenting is affected by childhood experiences how ever much we try to get away from them.
The Henry Experiment raises questions not just about parenting, but about the responsibility adults have for other people's children. Where is the line between protection and interference? What would you do if you found a child on the heath?
Sophie is a freelance writer and journalist. She lives in North London with two grown up children. Sophie writes for a range of publications including The Guardian, The Observer, The Independent. The Henry Experiment is her first novel.
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