Saturday, April 4, 2015

Reading in 2015 - Mothers Grimm

Mothers Grimm by Danielle Wood

Mothers Grimm
A sly, cheeky and blackly comic telling of mothering, heartache, heartbreak, desire, love and death.
In the fairytales of the Brothers Grimm, Rapunzel’s mother trades her firstborn child for a handful of leafy greens, and Hansel’s step-mother abandons him in a clearing in the forest. In ‘The Goose Girl’, the queen sends her daughter away to her fate with a bloodied handkerchief tucked in her bosom, and in ‘Sleeping Beauty’, Mama’s best efforts cannot prevent one little prick from having disastrous consequences for the heroine.
Danielle Wood’s Mothers Grimm brings characters from these stories into the modern world in a collection of four long stories that interrogate contemporary womanhood and motherhood.

Happy endings not guaranteed.

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Don’t give this book to a new mother!
Although, if you are looking for back-up to support a decision not to procreate then this may be just the thing to wave around and force upon your breeding friends with a smug, ‘I told you so’ running through your mind if not actually on your lips.

The most honest thing I can say for this book is that it is depressing. It condenses all the heartache and pressure of mothering – as the mother of a new born, multiple toddlers, a teen, an adult – but is missing all the lightness and joy and sparks of bliss that make it worthwhile.

All parents have times when they feel there is no way out. Times when you wonder how different you life could have been. Times when you wish your partner was that fairytale prince from the Disney brand of childhood brainwashing. Times when you stand back and let the helplessness wash over you and sweep away all rational understanding of your responsibility for your own happiness. That in itself is normal. What is not normal, and not okay, is when that is all there is. All these characters are stuck in the helplessness exactly at the point of despair – and that makes for a difficult read.

On the plus side – the writing is really very good. Each story is very different in style and carefully crafted even though sometimes you are left wanting more. There are some interesting (if uncomfortable) reflections on how the words and actions of a mother can stay with a daughter throughout her life, shaping -distorting?- her own experience when she becomes a mother and grandmother. There are phrases that will resound with you, strike you and stay in your mind for a very long time.
  • ‘It was something Meg had not known until she had children, how easily please can be made to stand in for for fuck’s sake.’
  • ‘The effect is like having your uterus torn out through your earholes.’
  • ‘This, then, was a baby. Not a blank thing, after all, Liv discovered. Not an outline to be inked in by parents and teachers and other good influences – not like that at all, but a whole person, ready made.’
  • ‘But there was something in the watchful set of her face, the twists at the corners of her mouth, that hinted to Lauren of dangerous disappointments, resentments and judgements.’
  • ‘I’d never yet thought of my life as a thing whose shape and dimensions were within my own control’
  • ‘And although ‘I love you’ is perhaps the biggest part of what I want to say to you, it’s still not even close to all.’
The prologue is, to me, where the wit and humour promised by the blurb is contained. It is an amusing piece of writing to which most mothers (and others) will relate. I wouldn’t call any of the four stories ‘darkly funny’ or witty. Dark for sure, sad, heart-breaking or heart-wrenching, despairing. Forget happy endings, there is no happiness anywhere to be found.

The final story , Nag, didn’t really catch me first time round. Maybe I was saturated by that point. I re-read it while writing this review and it spoke to me in a way the others didn’t. It is a very different writing style, a woman reflecting on her life and her relationships with her mother, partner, mother-in-law and children. It is really worth a read but probably lost at the back of the book. Take some time out and read it in isolation from the others. It is reflective, poignant, quite well crafted and probably the thing that will make me seek out more of this authors work.

To sum up – worth a read and probably fantastic for book groups. Expect to feel a bit side-swiped after reading it. My copy will be going back on the bookshelf for a while as I would like to re-read the stories with a bit of distance to see if my response changes.

Note: Review is from an uncorrected proof copy

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