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A couple of years ago I read Elizabeth Noble's 'Things I Want My Daughters To Know' and ever since then I have been hooked on this wonderful author. Her novels are truthful, poignant and sometimes heartbreaking, but ever so readable. I couldn't wait to pick up her latest book - 'Between a Mother and her Child' and the moment I did I hardly could bring myself to put it down.
'Between a Mother and her Child' tells the story of a family reeling from tragedy. Whilst travelling on his gap year, Maggie and Bill's son, Jake, was killed by the Asian Tsunami that struck on Boxing Day, 2004. They, along with their other children, Aly and Stan, have struggled to come to terms with what has happened and with their overwhelming grief. Two years on, Bill has moved out, Aly refuses to communicate with her mum, and Stan is attending a special school. Maggie spends most of her days just existing and most of her sleepless nights cleaning. They are a dysfunctional family who seem to be sinking deeper and deeper.
Luckily there are people who care about the family and most of all, Maggie's sister Liv. From her Australian home though there is little that she can really do to help so she looks for a practical solution. By chance, when she is visiting the family in London for Christmas, she spots a classified ad in the newspaper that she thinks could be a solution. Kate is a lonely widow, with no family to speak of, and has placed a very unusual advert:
'Mature. Healthy, solvent lady with own house seeks room in busy family home, in exchange for cooking, light housekeeping, company and, hopefully, some childcare'.
It's a very strange proposal but this could be exactly what Maggie needs if only Liv can get her to agree. It could be the start of this very unhappy family starting to rebuild their lives and finding a new kind of normality.
'Between a Mother and her Child' is a beautiful book and compulsive reading. It is painful, sad but never too morose but it is definitely worth having a box of tissues nearby. It is also uplifting at times. Elizabeth Noble has captured perfectly what it is to grieve and how that grief is so often isolating rather than being unifying. She also probes as to whether there is a hierarchy of grief. Aly feels that she has to be strong for the sake of her mum, somehow thinking that her loss of her brother is not so great as Maggie's loss of her son.
The characters are all wonderfully real and complex. Take Aly, for example, who not only feels that she has to support her mum but also feels that she is constantly being compared to her dead brother. She's soon to take her A levels but will they be as good as Jake's? She's also struggling to come to terms with her father's new girlfriend and her own blossoming relationship with Ryan, Jake's best friend. She can't find away to communicate how she feels and just wants to be a normal teenager. It's a marvellous depiction of a hormonal teenager but with the added angst of losing a brother and a family breakup.
I really can't recommend 'Between a Mother and her Child' enough as it is a tremendous read from start to finish. It should of course be remembered that the Boxing Day Tsnami in 2004 really did happen and that it was an international disaster of unimaginable scope. People are still suffering and rebuilding their lives and some might argue that this event should not be a backdrop for a work of fiction. However, it is treated very sensitively and not glorified in any ways. It illuminates the tragedy of being in the wrong place at the wrong time!
For Maggie and Bill it was love at first sight . . . One impulsive wedding later and with the arrival of three perfect children, Jake, Aly and Stan, the Barrett family seem to have it all. Until the day their world stops turning. When Jake dies suddenly, they're swept away on a tide of grief that fractures Maggie and Bill's marriage. She and the children are left clinging to the wreckage of their family. And they need help, because in her grief Maggie is in danger of losing Aly and Stan too. Enter Kate, housekeeper, companion and shoulder to cry on. She's here to pick up the pieces and fix what isn't completely broken. But can Maggie trust Kate? And why is Kate so keen to help? When Bill falls for another woman, Maggie realizes she will have to fight to put her family back together - but will they still want her?
I have been a fan of Elizabeth Noble's books for years, and really look forward her new releases. They're always really emotional books and more often than not make me cry, as Noble has such a realistic way of writing that draws you into the story of her characters. This is Noble's first book for 2 years, and although I'm not overly keen on the book cover which is a bit wishy-washy for my liking, I thought that the story sounded like a strong and emotive one, albeit quite long at almost 500 pages. However, once I was immersed in the tale of Bill, Maggie and their children, I didn't want to stop as I needed to find out how things would end for them all. Noble has once again come up with a wonderful novel, and here's why.
Some people may find this book hard to read because it deals with the death of a child in the family. If you've experienced anything like this yourself, you may want to stay away from this book. Bill and Maggie's son was killed on his gap year while travelling around the world, in the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004. Since then, their marriage has fallen apart, and they are leading separate lives. Also, their now teenage daughter Aly is struggling with her exams, and living up to her brother's reputation. The only one seemingly unaffected is youngest son Stan. However, when a new housekeeper Kate starts living with Maggie and the children, she begins to see life in a new light, and wonders how she can help Kate too. As the book deals with the theme of death, it isn't an overly happy read but one that you are very much drawn into and you end up really feeling for these characters.
Maggie is a woman that mothers up and down the land will be able to sympathise with. No-one ever wants to deal with losing a child, it isn't natural or normal, so Maggie struggles to deal with her grief, and this threatens her relationships with the rest of her family too. As a mum myself, I couldn't imagine what pain Maggie was going through, and it was hard to read her struggling sometimes. Bill, Jake's father, coped in a very different way, and I liked that Noble showed how we all cope differently with grief, Bill trying to do something positive out of something so tragic. His moving on with another woman was quite an interesting storyline too, I wanted to dislike him for it but at the same time understood his need to carry on with his life and not make it a waste, as much for himself as for Jake's memory. I thought Noble portrayed confused teenager Aly's story really well too, from her school exam stress, to her worry of living up to her dead brother's memory and school excellence. The characters were all realistic people dealing with a horrible situation, and I think a lot of readers will certainly warm to them.
The book has parts set in Australia, which I really loved and think it makes such a nice change, and brightened up the novel somewhat. Maggie is an Australian character, and her sister Olivia comes over for a part of the novel, and when she returns, the book flits back with her a little bit too. We also go over with Maggie and the children for a family occasion, and I loved reading how Maggie changed back to her old self away from England and the painful memories of what happened there. I thought it was an important part of the book and found these scenes much happier and easier to read than the others, and thought they provided a great contrast. The inclusion of the character of Kate just added another dimension to the book as you're also wondering what her story is, and I loved how Noble manages to bring about change for the main characters through Kate's tale too.
Overall, while this was an upsetting and emotional read in parts, I feel like Noble has done a great job in sensitively covering a difficult topic and making it somewhat accessible to all readers. The grief of Bill and Maggie is covered well, showing how different people deal with their pain and how it can affect those around you too. Yes, I did find it very sad and yes, some scenes regarding Jake's death were difficult to read but overall the book was really good and I enjoyed reading it very much. If you're a fan of Elizabeth Noble's previous books, then I think you will certainly like this one too. It isn't for people who are deeply affected by topics like this, but otherwise I would definitely recommend it, although be prepared to be taken on a bit of an emotional rollercoaster with Bill and Maggie! Recommended.
ISBN: 978-0718155377. Published by Michael Joseph on 16th February 2012. Pages: 480. RRP: £12.99. Also available as an eBook.
Thank you to the publishers for sending me a copy to review for http://chicklitchloe.blogspot.com
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