Dandelion Angel by C B Calico

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Dandelion Angel by C B Calico

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Rebecca Foster
Reviewed by Rebecca Foster
Summary: The four storylines in this debut novel illuminate aspects of borderline personality disorder through the main characters' troubled relationships with their mothers. C B Calico popped into Bookbag Towers to chat to us.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 121 Date: July 2015
Publisher: 4th Floor Press
ISBN: 9781897530665

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In her Author's Note, debut novelist C.B. Calico reveals that Dandelion Angel was inspired by a non-fiction work, Understanding the Borderline Mother by Christine Ann Lawson. The four mother/daughter relationships in this Germany-set novel – all marked to some extent by dysfunction, physical and/or verbal abuse, and borderline personality disorder – are based on Lawson's metaphorical classifications: the hermit, the queen, the waif, and the witch. Looping back through her four storylines in three complete cycles, Calico shows how mental illness is rooted in childhood experiences and can go on to affect a whole family.

The Hermit's Daughter: The Darkness within the Borderline Hermit is Fear

Caren comes from a rich family in Nürnberg. She has bought her mother, Ute, a set of Louis Vuitton luggage for their upcoming trip to Andalusia. Is Ute grateful? No, quite the contrary. She's nagging and controlling, and can't seem to do anything but complain about Caren's choices and criticise her hair. We later find out that Ute's family fled Dresden during the Second World War, and that Caren's brother committed suicide when she was 12 years old.

The Queen's Daughter: The Darkness within the Borderline Queen is Emptiness

Irja wakes up in Mainz Hospital with a concussion and a broken arm from a car accident. She is relieved to learn that her son Lucas was not in the car and has been staying with her mother, Ada, a famous actress. However, Ada threw away Lucas's teddy bear, a sign of her emotional coldness. When a biographer comes by wanting to interview Irja about her mother, she has the chance to expose Ada's past cruelty, but decides not to.

The Waif's Daughter: The Darkness within the Borderline Waif is Helplessness

Jo lives in Flensburg, where she teaches writing at the local university and goes horseback riding in her spare time. Through her sessions with her psychologist, Dr Rosenbaum, she explores her mother Gudrun's jealousy and incompetence. Gudrun still dresses like a teenager and demands that her daughter drive her to appointments. Later on she learns that her mother grew up in foster care, had borderline personality disorder, and considered aborting her.

The Witch's Daughter: The Darkness within the Borderline Witch is Annihilating Rage

Mandy, nicknamed 'Angel', was sexually abused as a child and ran away from home at age 13 to escape her mother Petra's beatings. When police arrest her for stealing a bicycle in Berlin, they notice her terrible stutter and arrange speech therapy for her. Years later, she discovers that her mother attended a draconian 1950s nursery school where she was punished for every toilet accident; this caused her later obsessive-compulsiveness with regards to cleanliness.

In each of the four storylines, there comes a point when the central character makes a symbolic break from the destructive mother figure. For instance, after an awful Christmas at her parents' mansion, Caren smashes the vase they gave her and shaves her head. In a similar vein, Irja deletes Ada's number from her phone, Jo refuses to chauffeur Gudrun around, and Mandy tells Petra exactly what she thinks of her and hopes never to see her again.

I loved how Calico brings these stories together at the very end through an online forum on borderline personality disorder. The four women have all survived similar experiences with overbearing mothers, and now can support each other. Although the different family situations represent psychological types, the characters never seem like symbols; their stories feel real and demand the reader's attention and empathy.

In each introductory story, I marked out a quote that makes the character easy to relate to: Caren – 'She hadn't really felt anything for a long time'; Irja – 'She was so used to her mother's derogatory remarks that she simply switched off her mind'; 'Jo had never questioned why her mother was so helpless'; and Mandy – 'She had been in survival mode for as long as she could remember.' Whether you've experienced dysfunction at home or not, you'll be able to sympathise with these sentiments.

The title image comes from Mandy's story. She got the nickname 'Angel' from her next-door neighbour while she was growing up, and the dandelion is a perfect metaphor for how hope can spring out of unpromising circumstances: 'Through a crack in the terrace's concrete, a dandelion had grown. … She loved the dandelion and felt something like kinship. … now it was in full bloom, bright yellow and radiant. It was amazing. Awe-inspiring.' The same goes for these four interlocking stories about making a healthy life after an inauspicious beginning.

Further reading suggestion: Of the many books about mother/daughter relationships, we can recommend The Memory Stones by Kate O'Riordan (fiction) and especially The Sunlight on the Garden: A Family in Love, War and Madness by Elizabeth Speller (non-fiction). For an inside look at borderline personality disorder, try Girl, Interrupted by Susanna Kaysen.

You can read more about C B Calico here.

Bookinterviews.jpg C B Calico was kind enough to be interviewed by Bookbag.

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Buy Dandelion Angel by C B Calico at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Dandelion Angel by C B Calico at Amazon.com.


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