Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald

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Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Stacey Barkley
Reviewed by Stacey Barkley
Summary: A search to locate the ‘I’ within a lifetime of family stories. MacDonald has penned an open consideration of motherhood in the twenty-first century, and how one grapples to fit the role into a wider identity.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 384 Date: March 2015
Publisher: Sceptre
ISBN: 978-1473610132

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A search to locate the ‘I’ within a lifetime of family stories.

At midlife, Mary Rose MacKinnon has settled down with her partner, Hilary, and is raising two young children. Opting to fulfill the role of stay at home mum, she has placed her career as an author on hold. What follows is a bid to reconcile this new identity with her former idea of self. Success, however, depends on Mary Rose facing up to the confusions of her past.

It all begins with an email reply, ‘Dear Dad, I.’

In response to his message of positivity regarding her sexuality, Mary Rose is lost for words. As an author, she depends on her written skills to make a living. This loss of articulation sets off a panic to relocate herself amid her changing life. It also reopens an old wound; on her coming out as gay her parents responded with anger and hostility, a response the opposite of this witty email she has received years later. It cast doubt on their love for her, and doubt on her assessment of them, her parents, as individuals. The whole thing was, however, one day swept under the carpet, never to be talked of again. This is the general coping method of the MacKinnon clan, and the root of much of Mary Rose’s troubles. They talk, but they don’t really talk, not about their feelings, or family grieving, or any of the deep things. And so she has muddled through constructing a life around family narratives. She must now delve into these.

Motherhood is a central factor in her struggle. In crafting this, author, MacDonald, does not shy away from a rather taboo perspective. For Mary Rose, motherhood was not the sole aim or goal of life, nor is it something that has completed her life. It is, rather, something she arrived at unexpectedly, and indeed by societal norms, rather late in life. She loves her children, but she is also frustrated by the sacrifices she is making. She is determined to be a good mother, but is also unsure about what the right thing to do is most of the time; does she battle her two-year old to wear matching shoes, again, or does she give in and reward the child’s, albeit unsuccessful, attempt to dress herself? She can’t for the life of her see the beauty in her child’s scribbles, though she feels this is typically expected. Her upswells of anger are candid and witty, and altogether understandable.

Her role as a mother also forces Mary Rose to revisit the colourful relationship she shares with her own mother, marked by a depressive episode throughout her early childhood. With a spate of questions surrounding this time and only family stories to rely on, Mary Rose must seek resolution with her past, and with her elderly parents.

Life is a construction that we weave around our family stories, protecting and reaffirming ourselves within them, but what remains when these are called into question? MacDonald provides a candid look at how we muddle through, revisiting our family stories and updating our sense of self as we age. It’s messy, it’s complex, it’s life in all of its colour.

If this book appeals then you might also enjoy The Mother's Tale by Camilla Noli.

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Buy Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald at


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