The Child By Kjersti A. Skomsvold (translated from the Norwegian by Martin Aitken) – A Review

Publisher: Granta

Publication Date: 6th May 2021

If I’m honest I’m not sure where I saw this book. It was one of those ones that pops up on social media or as a suggestion when you’re googling and I decided to do the cheeky ask and Granta willingly obliged.

What drew me to this book was the fact that it explores new motherhood which as you know is something I am particularly interested in for lots of reasons and is one of the main reasons I pick books like this up. This one was also blurbed by Sarah Moss so who am I to argue?

It is a very short and punchy book at a mere 155 pages and feels even more sharp for its vignette style.

We meet our narrator, a Norwegian woman living in Oslo, a writer and mother of two very young children born within 18 months of each other. The story is told from the perspective of the mother talking to her second child, a girl, as she writes about her first child, her son.

It starts off from the birth of the son which is written very viscerally yet also with a poetic and lyrical edge. It is from the springboard of birth that we then go on to learn more about our narrator. She is a woman who has been previously ‘ill’. This illness is never named but it is quite apparent to me that this illness was depression. She is fearful of this illness returning, particularly after the birth of her son but is also steeped in anxiety even before her first child is born. She is worried that if she accepts she is pregnant and tells people about it, that she will lose the baby.

She is desperate to see her stomach grow with the life inside her in order for the child to be safe whilst at the same time being in awe of her body and the odd sensation of it holding a human being inside it.

After he is born she struggles to write and spends her days worrying about all the potential harm that could come to her precious child. The seemingly innocuous everyday occurrences that could turn lethal.

‘I put the child in the horrid pram. I didn’t want to think about all the things that could happen, but I couldn’t stop myself. I imagined how every car that came towards us would swerve onto the pavement and mow us down, and I gripped the handle as if my treacherous hands might let go at any moment…’

It is in writing about this and ridding herself of these feelings that she can go on to relax a little more with her second child. She uses writing about her difficulties with sleeping and anxieties and intrusive thoughts as a kind of therapy which enables her to bond with her daughter more easily.

The timeline is not linear and it took me a few pages to realise what was going on and who the narrator was taking to. However I soon got into my stride and fully understood how the narrator was portraying her story.

We also learn about her husband Bo and their relationship prior to deciding to have a family and even as far back as them meeting and embarking on a difficult time in actually getting together. I enjoyed this element of the book which came fairly near the end as it gave Bo a more rounded background and allowed me to understand his personality a little more.

The writing is at times pinpoint sharp and based firmly in the sometimes messy realities of babies and motherhood and yet there are also moments of dreamlike sequences which are poetic and almost ethereal. I think this was helped by the sleepless fugue that the narrator floated through each day. The bone weary exhaustion of early motherhood.

I sat down and devoured this book in one sitting and really enjoyed it. It is a look at motherhood, family, marriage and bonding. If that sounds like you’re kind of thing, I highly recommend you get your hands on a copy.

Thank you as always to the publisher for my review copy.

See you all soon.

Amanda – Bookish Chat xxx

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