A Perfect Explanation by Eleanor Anstruther – A Review

Publisher: Salt

Publication Date: 15th March 2019

All I knew about this book going into it was that it tells the story of Enid Campbell, the granddaughter of the 8th Duke Of Argyll, who sold her son to her sister for £500.

What?!?!

Yes.

But that’s all I knew. You make snap judgements about a person when you hear something like that, without knowing the full details of how this situation came about and the reasoning behind it.

The story takes place over two time periods, the late 1920’s and the mid 1960’s when Enid is in a Christian Science nursing home.

It’s after the Great War in which Enid loses her dear brother Ivan and her mother Sybil is left with Enid and her sister Joan. Enid meets and reluctantly marries Douglas, despite having little or no feelings for him. They produce a son named Fagus who is to be the heir to Sybil’s family fortunes and a little girl named Finetta.

Enid struggles with motherhood and is jealous of her sister Joan’s carefree, somewhat hedonistic lifestyle, drinking, sleeping in late and keeping her lesbian relationship with Pat a secret from their mother (despite most of London knowing).

Enid thinks there may be something odd about Fagus, he’s a clumsy boy and is constantly falling down and bumping into things. She secretly thinks that his head is on the large side and battles with herself over whether to say anything to the doctors about her worries.

When tragedy strikes and Fagus is no longer considered a suitable heir, Enid spirals downwards into a deep depression and hangs all her hopes on the Christian Science way of life and their beliefs that sickness is a sin that can only successfully be cured by prayer and worshiping god. When Enid eschews all the assistance of modern medicine for Fagus and decides to rely souly on prayer to cure him, the family become increasingly worried about her mental health and her ability as a mother.

When it becomes clear that Fagus is not recovering and there is serious consideration given by the family as to his future, the decision is taken by Enid to reluctantly try for another baby with Douglas. She hopes she will fall pregnant with a boy who will provide her mother Sybil with her much wanted male heir.

When the baby is born and it is indeed a boy, named Ian, Enid struggles even more with motherhood. As post-natal depression grips her, she makes the difficult decision to leave the family and simply packs her things one afternoon and goes.

What follows is a complicated back and forth shift of power between Enid and her sister Joan. Enid is convinced that Joan has never liked her due to the fact that their father always showed Enid far more affection. Enid’s children are used almost as pawns in a family game, a struggle for the upper hand.

I won’t go into detail about the actual crux of the story surrounding the sale of Ian. It is far more complex and drawn out than I initially anticipated and is absolutely enthralling.

This is a story of family ties and allegiances, deeply buried secrets, status and wealth. It also looks unflinchingly at the struggles of motherhood and mental health.

Told in chapters from the perspective of young Enid in the 1920’s, Enid in the nursing home in the 1960’s and a few chapters from the perspectives of Joan and Finetta, the writing style is very engaging and atmospheric, the language used very evocative of the two time periods.

Characterisation is also superb, but this feels wrong to say considering they are real people and not imagined characters for the purposes of the book. I find it extremely interesting to read a fictionalised account of either a real event or real people. I think an author must have lots of courage to imagine how real people felt about a situation without ever truly knowing for sure. In fact I plan to do a separate blog post soon regarding this subject.

The author Eleanor Anstruther explains in her epilogue that her father is the child, Ian, who was sold and gave his permission to her to write the story and grant her access to his personal papers. This in itself was a lovely way to end the book.

If you’re a fan of family drama’s spanning over a number of years then I would recommend this book, the fact that it’s based on real life events gives it that extra fascinating gravitas.

Thank you to the publisher for the advanced proof copy.

See you soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat. Xxx

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