Motherthing by Ainslie Hogarth – A Review

Publisher: Atlantic Books

Publication Date: October 6th 2022

I was initially drawn to this book by the amazing cover and the bonkers tagline. But when I read the blurb I got the book tingles for sure! And my bookish spidey-senses were not wrong with this one!

When it arrived in May I knew it wasn’t due to be published until October but I took a peek at the first page and was immediately hooked. In a few short paragraphs I smiled wryly to myself at the dark and dry humour. That was enough for me to think oh blow it I’ll read it now! And read it I did, in 24 hours.

Abby has grown up with no father and a selfish mother who has more regard for the many many men who are in and out of her life. Abby pays the price of being second best in her mother’s eyes.

As an adult Abby meets Ralph, her knight in shining armour who comes as a package with his mother, Laura. Abby sees Laura as her second chance to have a loving caring mother figure in her life but is disappointed when Laura turns out to be over protective of Ralph and dismissive of Abby, making passive aggressive comments to Abby under Ralph’s radar.

The book opens at the point that Laura, having suffered from depression for years, takes her own life in the basement of her house, a house that Abby and Ralph had recently moved into to help Laura out.

After the passing of his mother, Ralph descends into a deep depression and tells Abby that his mother is back and living in the basement. Abby is desperate to keep a hold of her husband and drag him back into their lives in the here and now. A life of their own without the constraints of caring for Laura and the possibility of having a much wanted child of their own.

As Ralph falls apart so to by degrees does Abby and she ultimately makes terrible decisions in her quest for a happy family life.

I knew going in that this book was going to be bonkers. And it was, don’t get me wrong! However, it was much deeper and layered than I expected. The story is told from the first person perspective of Abby so we as readers are inside her head at all times. She has a dark sense of humour that we witness not only through her internal monologue but her interactions with Ralph and the women she works with. I really loved the little in-jokes she has with Ralph and their lovely genuine relationship.

Throughout the whole book there is of course the theme of motherhood. We have Abby’s own terrible neglected childhood with a mother who didn’t see her as a priority in her life and who put men before her. We then have Laura’s relationship with Ralph and the fact that she will not consider any woman to be good enough for him. We also have Abby’s desperation for a family of her own, so much so that she actually converses with her unborn child ‘Cal’ even though she isn’t even pregnant. We also then gave a separate thread of story relating to Abby’s employment at an old peoples residential care home. There’s a woman in there, Mrs Blundy, who Abby attaches herself to and calls her her ‘baby’ again another last desperate grab for a caring mother in her life. When this relationship is threatened it converges with her issues at home and that is when Abby’s decisions become unhinged.

Motherthing is a modern horror but wasn’t as horrific as I was expecting. There are some difficult parts to stomach (I’ll just say chicken a la king and leave it at that!) And it I bloody loved it!

It’s so funny and dark and odd but utterly gripping and propulsive. I love Ainslie Hogarths writing style and I know this book has been compared in some reviews to Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder and I can very much see why. There are also glints of C J Skuse in there if you’ve ever read the Sweet Pea series of books (but not as murderous!).

It’s a quirky book, it’s deliciously dark and it’s going right on my books of the year list!

Get involved!

Thank you to Kirsty Doole and Atlantic Books for my review copy.

Babysitter by Joyce Carol Oates – A Review

Publisher: 4th Estate

Publication Date: 1st September 2022

Well Joyce Carol Oates is a bit of a legend isn’t she really? I’ve not read many of her books but even I know that.

When I heard that JCO had a new book out called Babysitter, focussing on a child abductor and serial killer I knew it would be brilliant. Little did I know that it would also crawl right under my skin! So much so that I had to stop reading and put it down a few times for a breather!

Set in the late seventies in Detroit the story focuses on two separate threads that begin to weave together. We meet Hannah Jarrett the wife of a very affluent and successful businessman, Wes Jarrett who is well known and respected in the upper class areas of Far Hills in Detroit. The couple have two young children Katya and Conor and a housekeeper and nanny Ismelda. Hannah spends her days doing philanthropic work and is cochair on many charity commitees. It is at one of the charity dinners she has organised that she has a chance meeting with Y.K. A mysterious man who merely briefly touches her wrist but makes a huge impression on Hannah. Despite not many other people in the room remembering him or even knowing exactly who he might be.

Hannah starts an affair with this enigmatic mysterious man and sneaks away whilst Wes is at the office and the children are at school to meet him in a hotel suite.

It is here that she finds herself waking up disheveled and with a patchy memory. Even though she knows something untoward is going on she still revels in the thrill of having a ‘lover’ to spice up her dull suburban life. And maybe this is what happens in affairs?…..

Whilst all this is going on we also have the serial killer thread of the story. A murderer dubbed ‘Babysitter’ has been abducting children of around ten years old and keeping them hidden for a few days. Torturing and sexually assaulting them before strangling them. He then bathes them and leaves them displayed naked with their arms and legs crossed with a pile of their freshly laundered and ironed clothes beside them.

Hannah is terrified that as punishment for her extra marital affair, her children will fall victim to Babysitter but she also takes comfort in the fact that so far the children who have been murdered have all been from neglectful families. Until the murders come a little too close to home.

As Hannah’s life begins to unravel she starts to wonder about how little she actually knows about her lover and she fights to keep her family together.

Hannah is not an immediately likeable character by any means. She spends a lot of time bemoaning her life and has many issues, particularly with her father who she calls Joker Daddy. She also dwells a lot on how as a white, affluent woman she is regarded by other people. Race plays a big part in the novel and is indicative of the time.

The serial killer aspect is not a huge focus if you’re only interested in this novel for that element. It’s a peripheral story that frames the disintegration of Hannah’s life.

This novel is very tense and made me feel uncomfortable at many points along the way! The descriptions of violent sexual assault and it’s aftermath are extremely graphic and make for difficult reading. There are also depictions of child sexual abuse within a paeodophile ring which are extremely uncomfortable, so please do bear this in mind if you’re considering reading.

Joyce Carol Oates writing is very distinctive and can be quite difficult to get into initially in my opinion, but once you’re there you are completely absorbed. Despite the feelings this book gave me I really did enjoy it. It crawled under my skin and took root in my brain. I felt like I needed a good hosing down after reading it!

I’ve also since bought more JCO novels to keep me topped up!

Thank you so much to Matt Clacher and 4th Estate for my review copy.

See you soon.

Amanda xx

The Family Retreat By Bev Thomas – A Review

Publisher: Faber & Faber

Publication Date: 25th August 2022

It was May when the proof of The Family Retreat by Bev Thomas dropped through my letterbox. I did that thing that I’m sure a lot of us do where you just have a sneak peek at chapter one just to see what it’s all about. I read chapter one……chapter two……chapter three and didn’t put it down for a couple of days. This is one of those books you want to skip work and ignore your family for!

Rob has decided that it will be a good idea for his family to get away for the summer and leave their home life and worries behind. Jess, his wife, is not so sure it’s a good idea to run away from their problems but as she’s currently on a sabbatical from her job as a GP in a busy London surgery she agrees to the break to spend some time with Rob and their two young children Sam and Ruby.

They soon settle into their relaxed holiday vibe in a lovely little cottage on the coast and even start to make friends. Helen and her husband James are living in a cottage nearby with their two children. Jess makes friends with Helen but the relationship is quite superficial at first with Jess sensing that Helen wants to keep her distance and keep things on a surface level. Jess admires Helen’s organised mothering skills and strict routines and watches on sometimes enviously. Helen’s husband, when he’s around is attentive and helpful and Jess admires their whole family dynamic.

As the women spend more and more time together with the kids, days on the beach, barbecues etc Helen begins to open up more about her life and some issues within it. But what secrets are both women keeping and will it bring them closer or crack families apart?…..

This is quite a tense read and there were times when my heart was hammering due to the dangerous and heart-in-mouth moments that occurred. I was swept along so skilfully in the narrative that I was fully immersed in the situations along with these characters.

The back drop of the coast line was such a good choice. The descriptions of the landmarks and a particular place known as the dancing ledge were very evocative. In fact the author Bev Thomas put an image of a similar place to the dancing ledge on her Twitter feed and it was exactly as I’d pictured it.

There are lots of layers to this story to build up and peel away. I love a story with secrets and facades to chip away at.

This book deals with some difficult issues such as mental illness and domestic abuse which is something to bear in mind.

I really enjoyed this book which I think would make an absolutely perfect summer read. I honestly couldn’t put it down.

I can’t wait for what Bev brings us next!

Thank you to Bev and Faber & Faber for my review and finished copies.

See you all soon.

Amanda x

Bad Fruit By Ella King – A Review

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication Date: 18th August 2022

I always enjoy a book about a difficult mother and the tag line of ‘Meet Mama. A good mother? Or a good liar….’ drew me to Bad Fruit by Ella King.

Set in Greenwich London over one hot summer, we meet 18 year old Lily, daughter of a Chinese mother and English pathologist father. Lily’s mother is an extremely difficult woman and then some! She’s volatile and selfish and explosive. She’s difficult and cruel and the family pretty much tiptoe around her, none more so than Lily.

Lily has older siblings, sister Julia and brother Jacob. Julia is the incendiary child who ignites the flames of fury in her mother whilst Jacob keeps his distance. Both have moved out leaving Lily behind to handle their mother. Lily has been moulded into a miniature version of her mother and Julia likes to call her Mamas girl, Mama’s doll. Lily is the least Chinese looking of the three siblings so their mother makes her dye her brown hair jet black,use makeup to change her skin colour and contacts to change her eye colour. She wears her mother’s favourite pink clothes and cooks her mother’s favourite meals, diligently completing lists of tasks her mother leaves for her whilst she’s at work.

Lily’s father is somewhat beleaguered and tries to avoid his wife’s raging tempers despite being the cause of them in a lot of cases. Lily is the only person who can pre-empt the rages and uses tried and tested methods of diffusing her mother’s anger by distracting her with cooking traditional meals from her childhood in China and encouraging her to talk about the memories she has of this time.

But Lily begins to have disturbing flashbacks which start small, smashed glass, milk between toes, a woman collapsing against a chair…… these flashbacks mean nothing to her and bring on debilitating panic attacks that she struggles to control.

But in investigating these flashbacks Lily starts to learn more and more about her mother, uncovering secrets and lies with potentially devastating consequences.

The opening of this novel is chaotic! In a great way. There’s a lot going on and you are aware that this family has some huge issues right from the off! My mind was whirring with what on earth could have made this family and particularly, this mother, so toxic and dysfunctional!

It is a very layered exploration of trauma and how this filters down through generations gaining levels of toxicity as it goes. It’s a difficult often tense read and there are some shocking and chaotic moments. I really felt for Lily and her situation as a young girl wanting to break free from her childhood home but also being left behind as the one who has to ‘handle mother’.

I read this book in one 24 hour period and couldn’t look away from the car crash realities of this dysfunctional family. Loved it!

Thank you to Susanna Peden and HarperCollins for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda xx

The Night Ship By Jess Kidd – A Review

Publisher: Canongate

Publication Date: 11th August 2022

You all know how much I adored Things In Jars by Jess Kidd. I wanged on about it endlessly! And rightly so!

I was both excited and nervous when I heard that Jess had a new book coming out in August this year, The Night Ship. Nervous because I wanted to love it so much. I even put off reading it for longer than I normally would for this very reason.

Fear not dear reader for Jess kidd has done it again! Written a spectacularly imaginative story that everyone must read.

The book has a dual timeline narrative which you know I love. We have little Mayken in 1628 who has just boarded a ship called the Batavia with her nursemaid Imke, headed to see a father she doesn’t know after losing her mother to the ‘bloody flux’.

The ship is grand and Mayken in her high social standing is afforded a cabin on the upper decks or the ‘upper world’ as it’s known. However, curious and bold Mayken yearns to know what is going on below deck in the ‘below-world’ and sets about discovering the comings and goings down in the cramped, dark and stuffy, rat infested lower decks.

Mayken’s much beloved nursemaid Imke has a touch of the foresight about her and passengers come to her for predictions and prophesies. But when Imke becomes gravely ill, Mayken has reason to believe that something more sinister is aboard the ship…..slithering around in the darkness.

In 1989 young Gil, having also just lost his mother in terrible circumstances is arriving on a remote island in Australia to stay with his fisherman grandfather, Joss. Joss is a quiet, surly and introspective man who has little time for his new charge. The other fishing families on the island are not keen on Joss to say the least but there is one particular family, The Zanetti’s, who have a deeply held grudge against Gil’s grandfather. Gil doesn’t want to be a fisherman and finds it hard to settle on the island but he’s drawn to stories of a Dutch ghost girl who wanders the island…..

The two timelines merge together in various ways and there are echoes of themes across the two. Power, cruelty and control. The individual characters of Mayken and Gil are written so beautifully and authentically that you can’t help but root for them both! Mayken is a strong and brave little girl and Gil is strong and brave too but in different ways and for different reasons. Both children have lost their mother and find themselves alone and trying desperately to find themselves but not quite fitting in.

The historical detail regarding the ship Batavia was immense. I was so immersed in life at sea and could imagine all the finer details. Jess is so good at crafting wonderfully immersive stories that just sweep you away to other places and times.

Jess is also a master at writing fully formed characters bursting with personality even if they are a somewhat peripheral character. There are quite a few different characters in this story, both aboard the ship and on the island but they are all very distinct. There is a fearsome man called Stonecutter onboard the Batavia who only appears briefly but wreaks havoc and spreads fear. Mayken and Gil both make some really gorgeous connections with others. Mayken with a British soldier and various crew members and Gil with a couple of islanders Sylvia and Dutch but mostly with a tortoise pal called Enkidu who you’ll never forget!

I’m always left a bit stunned at the end of Jess’s books wishing I could go back and read it again immediately just to be back in that world and The Night Ship is no exception. It goes without saying that the book led me on a googling mission as it’s based on the real life story of the Batavia. Absolutely fascinating!

Another totally magical tale with storytelling at its heart. I loved it!

Thank you Jess for my proof copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xx

Ginger And Me By Elissa Soave – A Review

Publisher: HQ

Publication Date: 21st July 2022

I took a chance on this book and boy am I glad I did! You all know I don’t really tend to enjoy books with contemporary teenage girl friendships but with Ginger And Me it was one of those times when I was so pleased that I went against my usual ‘type’ of book.

Set in present day Glasgow the book opens with Wendy our main narrator being arrested for something, at this point we have no idea what.

From here we then go back in time through Wendy’s eyes and find out the turn of events which led up to her being arrested. Wendy is 19 and lives alone after the fairly recent death of her mother from cancer. Her father is also dead after separating from her mother and ending up homeless. Wendy struggled hugely after the death of her mother and had to spend some time in psychiatric care. We join her at the point that she has been released and is seeing her care worker and has returned to her job as a much loved bus driver.

Wendy is lonely and has no friends, she has let herself go and cares very little for her surroundings and her own self-care. Her care worker Saanvi suggests that Wendy join a club to meet friends so Wendy, a keen writer, joins a local writing group. It’s here that she learns about a local author named Diane Weston and starts to become interested in not only Diane’s work but Diane herself and her personal life.

Wendy trawls Twitter waiting for Diane to tweet and is overjoyed if Diane ever replies. This interest soon turns into an obsession with the author which Wendy sees only as an inevitable friendship.

Meanwhile Wendy also meets Ginger, a 15 year old girl who gets on her bus one day after supposedly stealing from a shop. The girls become close and form a friendship based on their loneliness and lack of mother figures. Ginger lives with her Uncle Tam who is a local ‘businessman’. Her home is quite often filled with people drinking into the night and Uncle Tam’s business partner’ Roddy is getting more and more hands on with Ginger.

The girls start to spend more and more time together. Ginger helping Wendy decorate her house and smarten herself up and Wendy giving Ginger a safe place of refuge.

But the lives of Wendy, Ginger and Diane start to converge and we begin to piece together the events leading up to the arrest.

Believe me when I tell you that Wendy is a character who will stay with you forever. She is quirky and lovely but fails to pick up on social cues and etiquette. She is naive and vulnerable doesn’t quite appreciate some of the tight spots she gets herself into. Some of the one liners of Wendy’s thoughts had me chuckling to myself. There’s one conversation she has with Saanvi about self-love that’s just brilliant! She’s intelligent and super smart when it comes to words and writing and being in her own head. She’s just not very socially adept!

I really did love this book and the characters inside. Wendy is one of those people who will just stay with you! Ps the ending was just so perfect, right down to the last sentence which is a corker!

Thank you to Elissa and HQ for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda x

Mother’s Don’t By Katixa Agirre (translated by Kristin Addis) – A Review

Publisher: 3TimesRebel

Publication Date: 14th July 2022

Oh my goodness! This book! I’m writing this review having just closed the book after tearing through it in about 4 hours flat.

I came to get my hands on a copy due to the keen eye of my bookish Two Fond Of Books partner in crime Clare @yearsofreading. Mothers Don’t by Katixa Agirre (translated from the Basque by Kristin Addis) is one of the lead titles of new indie publisher 3TimesRebel who are dedicated to publishing books by women in minority languages.

Mothers Don’t tells the stories of two women who are new mothers. The unnamed narrator (first person perspective) is a writer of a very successful true crime novel and is pregnant with her first child when she hears that a woman has murdered her twin babies, drowning them in the bathtub. This is a huge news story for a while, filled with public outrage but the narrator turns her attentions away from it until she is in labour herself and suddenly remembers in a moment of revelation that she knew the woman concerned, Jade (now Alice) briefly many years ago.

The narrator then decides to take a sabbatical from her job to write another novel, this time about the murders. She becomes slightly obsessed with Alice and the motivation behind the murder, using her savings to fund her writing project and putting her own baby into nursery care to get the job done. She also attends the trial of the Alice and begins to piece together what actually happened and weigh up her own feelings with the feelings of the public and the jury.

This book opened in such a way that it had me gripped from the first few pages! The opening scene is one where the nanny of the twins is returning home to find the dead bodies and Alice nonchalantly sitting in a chair. It is a roasting hot day and the atmosphere is dripping with tension. It’s a short chapter but is so powerful. It gave me real Leila Slimani, Lullaby vibes.

You know I’m a complete sucker for books about motherhood and this one digs deep into what it means to be a mother and how much of yourself as an individual you have to relinquish to become a ‘good mother’. It deals with post natal depression, post partum psychosis and infanticide so is understandably hard hitting and a difficult read in some places.

Aside from the main narrative I was equally impressed with the nuggets of information about subjects relating to motherhood which were expertly weaved in. I felt like I was learning something as I read. There were quotes about motherhood at the start of each chapter which had me going off on a Google mission! There were quotes about being a mother and information about the experience of being a mother by Doris Lessing, Muriel Spark and Sylvia Plath. Lessing said ‘there is nothing more boring for an intelligent woman than to spend endless amounts of time with small children’.

The section about the history of infanticide in various cultures over many many centuries was fascinating and not an info dump in anyway, it was seamlessly woven into the complete story and gave a solid background to the overall narrative. I do love background information when it’s well thought out, fully researched and well placed.

The obvious emotion of the topics discussed are upsetting and unsettling and you find yourself wondering what actually motivated Alice to do what she did. We as the reader are seeing things through the narrators eyes and are kept at arms length from the perpetrator so we can’t really make a fully rounded judgement. It’s not all neatly tied up in a bow either. It leaves you with thoughts to mull over and conclusions to draw for yourself.

I was completely blown away and this book will definitely be on my books of the year list. It will stay in my head for a long time yet.

Thank you to Anna Zanetti and 3TimesRebel for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda x @bookishchat

Blue Hour By Sarah Schmidt – A Review

Publisher: Tinder Press

Publication Date: 7th July 2022

I’m almost too apprehensive to write a review for Blue Hour by Sarah Schmidt purely because it’s one of those books that having read it you desperately just want people to read it. Full stop. End of review.

I read Sarah’s debut novel See What I Have Done a few years ago and loved it. I had high hopes going into Blue Hour and let me tell you that all my expectations of this book were met and then some!

Set in Australia, Blue Hour tells the stories of two women, mother and daughter Kitty and Eleanor. Both women are suffering due to the effects of war on their husbands. We have Kitty, a nurse in the 1940’s who meets George and starts a relationship with him. George is then a casualty of WW2 and on his return Kitty helps nurse him. Whilst he’s not exactly the love of her life after returning from war, they make a connection and Kitty falls pregnant. But whilst dealing with pregnancy and a young child, Kitty has to contend with George’s terrible night terrors, changes in personality and odd behaviour which often sends him off to the hospital for long periods of time.

The book opens with Kitty’s daughter, Eleanor in the present day (which happens to be the 1970’s) escaping in the night from her abusive husband Leon, who has returned from the war in Vietnam. She takes their baby, Amy and flees in the car, heading towards the Blue Mountain, a place of solace from her childhood.

The narratives flit between present day Eleanor, Kitty in the 1940’s onwards interspersed with brief chapters from when Eleanor was a child and the perceptions she has of her parents and their strained relationship.

This book deals with so many issues, the ramifications of war and how they can reverberate down through generations. The taught and fraught anxiety of motherhood and what makes a good mother, loss and love and grieving for the things you didn’t realise you would miss. It also deals with trauma and how this can be passed on through the generations, particularly from mother to daughter.

There is a creeping horror in the everyday details. A sense of being unnerved and unsettled by certain moods and behaviours. There are times you want to look away and take a brief respite from the tension but you absolutely can’t.

You are in effect witnessing the very personal and very intimate ways in which these two women come unravelled over the decades.

I cried in places and I don’t cry easily! There is one event that was like a sucker punch to the heart. It made me question what I had already read up to that point and made me return to certain chapters to see if what I thought had happened had actually happened!

The way Sarah Schmidt writes is so beautifully crafted, and it really is just that, a craft. She uses words and sentence construction in such a powerful way. She repeats certain words and phrases to really hit them home and her short, partially formed staccato sentences give way to beautifully detailed prose when the tension and emotion ratchets up.

This book is multilayered in terms of themes and of construction and the building of characters. Characters, especially Kitty who provoke lots of unanswered questions.

Blue Hour just completely blew me away and I will be thinking about it (and desperate to talk about it with other readers!) for a long while.

Thank you so much to Emily Patience and Tinder Press for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda x

Children Of Paradise By Camilla Grudova – A Review

Publisher: Atlantic Books

Publication Date: 7th July 2022

I read Camilla Grudova’s short story collection The Dolls Alphabet and absolutely loved it. Infact it has pride of place on my Forever Shelf and I don’t hang on to many short story collections usually.

Her stories are perfectly ‘on the wonk’ for me, off kilter and unusual, and that was the same for Children Of Paradise in absolute spades!

Holly takes a job as an usher at a once popular, grand and glamorous cinema known as The Paradise. Now however, it has lost its appeal, it’s funding and it’s glamorous opulence. Now it is run down, grubby, tatty and coming loose at it’s frayed edges.

Holly is initially ignored by her work colleagues, an unlikely band of twenty-something misfits and she feels terribly lonely. However, after a few weeks of being iced out she infiltrates their gang and gains trust enough to join in their nightly clandestine screenings of films once the cinema is closed and falls silent.

This group seem to only survive through their work at The Paradise and their love of film. They exist within the dark rich red walls of The Paradise as if the world outside isn’t real. They cruise the aisles of the cinema screen collecting discarded alcohol and drugs (prescription or otherwise) and pocketing lost jewellery or clothing.

They put up with the ever present irritation of the owner of The Paradise, an eccentric old woman who comes in to eat the food and watch the films. However when she dies the current employees are faced with a corporate take over and it’s from here that their lives both together in their misfit group and as individuals start to unravel in catastrophic and dark ways.

I tweeted about this book whilst halfway through it that it was grubby and gross and that is exactly what it is. And I mean that in a very positive way! The depictions and detailed descriptions of the now delapidated cinema made it so easy to imagine. The descriptions of cleaning up bodily fluids left behind after screenings, the blocked toilets and the rat infested popcorn were just stomach churning. Even though the cinema’s finery was fading fast the descriptions were vivid and visceral and unpleasant. Everything I love!

The characters are an unusual bunch, you get to see glimpses of each personality individually and how that fits with the coalescence of the group as a whole. Holly’s transformation from a quiet and unassuming usher from when she first was employed at The Paradise to when she has been absorbed fully into the group and is stealing and drug taking and having sex during screenings is interesting. You are taken on a slowly unfolding journey with her.

It’s also a quite sad depiction of capitalism and the pursuit of profit.

Overall it was a grimy, filthy, unsettling, grubby little novel and I absolutely loved it.

Thank you so much to Harry at Atlantic Books for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda x @bookishchat

Still Born By Guadalupe Nettel (translated by Rosalind Harvey).

Publisher: Fitzcarraldo Editions

Publication Date: 22nd June 2022

I feel like a stuck record when I continually say that I love books surrounding the subject of struggling mothers. This book however looks at the flip side of that I suppose whilst still dealing with the many and varied complexities of motherhood and what that means in its various forms. The flip side in this case being choosing not to have children.

Set in Mexico (translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey) Still Born by Guadalupe Nettel tells the two contrasting stories of friends Laura and Alina, both in their mid-thirties. From their early life together both women have always stated that they didn’t want to have children and Laura in particular looked down on women who did. However, Alina then changes her mind and decides she wants to try for a child whilst this decision cements Laura’s feelings that she wants to remain childless and so takes the decision to be sterilised.

Laura then develops an interest in her neighbours child, an 8 year old boy who regularly throws tantrums and can be heard through the walls verbally abusing his single mother. As Laura watches the pigeon nest in her garden bear eggs then fledgling birds, she contemplates the meaning of motherhood and what makes a mother, whilst getting closer to the boy next door.

Alina’s pregnancy journey is not an easy one, far from it, and she has to make some difficult decisions which in turn lead to a difficult start to motherhood.

Both women have to come to terms with their feelings around motherhood and caring for children in vastly different ways.

I enjoyed the fact that the main narrator is Laura throughout. We learn of Alina’s struggles through Laura’s eyes but still with a close attention to detail which allows us as the reader to become invested in Alina’s journey.

It is not only the two main characters and their views on motherhood we see, there is also Laura’s relationship with her own mother, and the relationship between the single mother next door and the young boy. This book makes you think about the decisions women have to make with regards to having children and the way they are treated based on those decisions.

As I mentioned, I quite regularly read around the subject of motherhood but I rarely read from the perspective of someone so assured in their decision not to have children. This was an interesting angle for me. The writing is sharp and the chapters are short which makes for a propulsive read.

I am now keen to read any other translated Guadalupe Nettel books so I’ll be on the look out!

Thank you to Clare Bogen and Fitzcarraldo Editions for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda x