Between a Mother and her Child by Elizabeth Noble
|Between a Mother and her Child by Elizabeth Noble
|Category: Women's Fiction
|Reviewer: Sue Fairhead
|Summary: It could have been maudlin, but was surprisingly upbeat. Despite a bit too much introspection in places, this is a positive account of how each member of a family starts coming to terms with a terrible tragedy.
|Date: February 2012
|Publisher: Penguin (Michael Joseph imprint)
|External links: Author's website
Richard and Judy Book Club Autumn 2012
Maggie and Bill had a wonderful, happy family until tragedy struck, nearly a year before the story opens. The blurb on the back of the book says exactly what this tragedy was, but it's not explained until several chapters into the book. It would have made more powerful reading had I not known what had caused the family to break up.
For this is a book about a shattered family who deal with grief in various ways. Bill has moved out, and has a new - younger - girlfriend. Maggie is trying to hold together a household with a morose teenager - Aly - who is about to take her A-levels, and a younger son - Stan - who has some minor educational special needs. Maggie's sister lives in Australia, but comes to visit; she tentatively suggests following up an advert from an older woman - Kate - who wants a family to look after. Kate turns out to be quite a catalyst... and begins to find healing in her own life too.
It's just the kind of novel I should like, particularly given that the tragedy happened before the story opens. And, overall, I did enjoy it. I liked Aly very much, and the glimpses into her complex and intelligent mind; I was quite taken with Kate, too. Stan was rather unnecessary to the plot, I felt, but was likeable enough.
However, I really couldn't get hold of either Maggie or Bill, who appeared still to love each other but were drifting further apart, and much of the story is from Maggie's perspective. It's written from rather a general viewpoint, with regular switches of character, and insights into their minds and feelings. The changes came so regularly (and sometimes rapidly) that it was hard to feel much empathy; instead I sometimes felt as if I were watching from a distance rather than being drawn into the family.
My other problem with the book is that there's too much detail about everyone's emotional state and inner thoughts, many of them already obvious from dialogue or events, most of them unnecessary to spell out. This meant that it's rather longer than it needs to be, with the middle part dragging somewhat. It's taken me over two weeks to read it, and while part of that is due to family commitments, there wasn't any stage at which I felt the need for some extra reading to find out what was going to happen. The front of the book informs me that it's 'impossible to finish without tears streaming down your face'; I did not find this to be true, although I have to admit to a few pricklings of my eyeballs and a slight lump in my throat at one or two places.
It would make good holiday reading - it's the kind of book to buy at the airport, and then leave with someone else. It's not morose, and while the ending is somewhat bittersweet, it's hopeful too, with many threads resolved.
Thanks to the publishers for sending the book.
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