I have just completed this book and must say it is an excellent read and I could not put it down at all. It is described on the front cover by Jodi Picoult as "simply beautiful" and I have to agree.
The book is set in 1964 in the US and begins by describing David, a doctor, and how he met his now pregnant wife Norah. They were married soon and she fell pregnant and goes into labour during a snowy winter. David rushes his wife to the hospital, and with the help of Caroline, his nurse, delivers a healthy baby boy followed by a baby girl with downs syndrome. In those days, as described in the book, there was much stigma attached to having a downs syndrome child and many worries about their health and life expectancy. In a rash decision, as his wife is unconscious during labour, he tells his nurse to take the little girl to a care home. When his wife awakens he tells her that she had a little boy, named Paul, but the baby girl has passed away.
Caroline takes the baby girl, named Phoebe to the care home but can not bare to leave her there as she finds it unpleasant and so decides to move away to bring up the baby girl herself.
The book passes through periods of time, describing the parallel upbringings of the two children. It shows how Caroline fights for Phoebe to be treated "normally", to be given an education and a chance in life. It also follows David, Norah and Paul, who seem to go along in life with something missing, and shows the break down/drifting apart of their marriage, the arguments between father and son and the guilt that David feels.
I don't want to give anymore of the book away, as there is nothing worse than a review spoiling the whole story, but it is a genuine worthwhile read.
In the style of a Jodie Picoult's "what would you do" novel, The Memory Keepers Daughter focusing on a married couple - Norah and David - over a span of around twenty five years. In the first chapter we meet this young couple eagerly anticipating their first child. They are clearly in love and, admist the falling snow outside, very excited. It is the mid 1960's in America and David is a Doctor. When the contractions start the couple make their way gingerly over the deep snow to the local Doctors where a colleague is due to deliver the baby. Unfortunately the doctor cannot make it through the snow and so David must deliver his own child - with the aid of the nurse Caroline Gill. After the first child- Paul - is delivered safely, David discovers that there is a second - a twin for Paul - Pheobe. Pheobe is, however, a downs syndrome baby and, remembering that this is the mid 1960's and we were much more ignorant then, David makes the decision that his wife should never know about Pheobe and sends Caroline Gill away to place Pheobe in a home. David genuinely believes that he is doing his wife a favour and sparing her from certain grief.
And so the story unfolds. David finds it incredibly difficult to live with his guilt and the novel starts to tear away at his reasons for this action, Norah finds it very difficult to come to terms with the birth of her "dead" daughter and the wall that seems to seperate her from her husband - eventually finding solace in a number of affairs, Paul grows up overprotected by his mother and distant from his father whilst Caroline Gill - appalled at the state of the home she has been sent to - brings Pheobe up as her own daughter.
The story challenges our own perceptions of such actions and downs syndrome itself. I found myself feeling happy that Pheobe had such a happy childhood - but there again wouldn't she have been just as happy with her birth family?
At the end of the book there is a conversation with the author which I nearly ignored. In there she reveals that this novel is loosely based on a true story. The pastor in her church told her about a parishioner who had just learnt that he had a downs syndrome brother who had died in an institution without ever meeting his birth family.
It is always easy to judge - stories like this challenge your own thinking and, I hope, make you a better person.
I received "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" by Kim Edwards as part of Galaxy's book club promotion, where they offered a free book with a winning code on one of their products. It's not s book I would have picked up otherwise, but when I looked through the titles they had on offer, the premise was certainly intriguing.
It tells the story of David Henry, a doctor in small town America, and his wife Norah, who gives birth to twins in 1964. The boy, Paul, is healthy, but the girl, Phoebe, has Down's Syndrome. Judging by the characters' reactions to this revelation, this was a terribly stigmatizing disorder in 1960s America. So much so, in fact, that David decides to tell his wife that the girl had died - without mentioning her condition - and instructs Caroline, the nurse, to take the baby to an institution.
Caroline, secretly in love with David and desperate for a baby of her own, follows his instructions, but finds the institution far too grim to consider leaving the child there. In an impulsive decision, she takes the child away with her to another state, and raises it as her own. The story follows these two separate lives - David's, with his guilty secret creating an invisible rift between him, his wife and his son; and Caroline's, experiencing the difficulties of unmarried motherhood with a disabled child.
The book is written in a highly detailed and stridently realistic style which reminded me of two other books I've read, "My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult and "The Time Traveller's Wife" by Audrey Niffenegger. It's not my favourite style of writing, but does draw you very effectively into the world of the characters, and is eminently readable. Plot is generally thin on the ground, as the book focuses more on detailed snapshots of the characters' lives at different stages as the children grow up - we see them in 1970, when they are six, then again in 1977 at the age of 13. The inner and outer lives of the characters, their daily grind, hopes, anxieties and despairs are described in intricate detail. Again, by choice I would prefer to read something with a more solid and interesting storyline, and I did find myself skimming some of the long descriptive passages. The writing is however skilful and evocative, and makes up for what it lacks in plot.
I found I had very little empathy for the guilty, pensive David, his emotionally distant wife Norah and their slightly spoilt son Paul. Far more interesting to me were the sections focussing on Caroline, who blossoms from a timid nurse to a confident campaigner on the rights of the disabled, and the development of her adopted daughter Phoebe, the only truly innocent character in the book. There are some big events along these characters' life stories - disappearances, illnesses, deaths - but they are never presented in a way that gives great emotional impact. Such a story of deceit and betrayal would seem to promise an explosive denouement, but even this is not forthcoming: when the two different worlds finally do come together, it is with more of a whimper than a bang.
The cover of the book proclaims it a multi-million US no. 1 bestseller, so obviously many people enjoyed it more than I did. Despite my criticisms, I would still recommend it as an interesting tale of a broken family, and the consequences that split second decisions can have on the rest of a person's life, and that of those close to them. And fans of the two authors mentioned above - Jodi Picoult and Audrey Niffenegger - will I'm sure find much to love here.
***Also posted on Helium under the same name! ***
I was lucky enough to win this book in the Galaxy Book Club competition. It's not normally the kind of book I might go for, but I'd heard good things about it, and as it was free, I thought I would give it a go!
I'll try to give you a brief overview of the story without giving too much away. The book begins in 1964 with Dr David Henry and his wife Norah looking forward to the birth of their first child. The opening gives an insight in to how they met, and paints a picture of them as a traditional happy couple, about to be parents for the first time.
When Norah goes into labour, the weather and snow are so bad that they are unable to get to a hospital for her to give birth. Instead, they manage to get her as far as David's clinic, where he works as a doctor. He calls the nurse that he works with, Caroline, to meet them there to help.
When Norah gives birth, she unexpectantly has twins, a boy and a girl. However, when the girl is born, it is obvious to David that she has downs syndrome. He does not want the child, so he passes her to Caroline, and instructs her to take her for a home for people with downs syndrome, then he tells his wife that their second baby has died.
This is where the deceit and betrayl that shape the rest of the story begins.
The book then documents the lives of the family, Caroline the nurse, and the baby girl, and show how all of their lives are affected by the lie that David has told.
The story is told in the third person, switching its focus between the different characters. It focuses on a year or so in their lives, and then every few chapters, jumps forward a few years to show how things have changed. The book begins in 1964 and ends in 1989. This really works well as it gives a lot of insight into the characters as we are able to see how they change over time and with age.
The Memory Keeper's Daughter is a very sad book, not in the way that will have you crying as you read it, but the whole idea of it, and the way in which David's lie affects and hurts so many people makes it a sad story.
The treatment of people with Downs Syndrome is fairly shocking, although at the time the book is set, in the 1960s and 70s, it was much more taboo that it is now. For example, the home that Caroline was instructed to take the baby too sounded awful and inhumane, and it seems amazing that it was considered acceptable just 40 or 50 years ago. Having said that, even now, people still don't have a huge amount of knowledge of Downs Syndrome, and the book gives an interesting view of the condition, showing a character who has had to live with it.
I wouldn't say that this book is a page turner as such, it took me a few weeks to read it. Some parts of it grabbed me and made me want to read a lot in one go, but it often came to a natural pause, meaning you could leave it for a while. Having said this it was an enjoyable read, and once I had started the book I wanted to know what happened and how it ended.
The book retails for £7.99. Whilst it was good, and I would recommend reading it, it's maybe not the sort of book you would want to read again and again, so it might be better to pick it up from a library.
It's an interesting book with lots of thought provoking themes and topics, and I'd recommend giving it a read
I read this book quickly and silently, unable to imagine the pain that one family could go through. The powerful storyline and the strong emotions in this book make you cry and question the prejudices that many people face.
An astonishing book that is well worth anyone's money, but has to be read when your in the right frame of mind!
One winter's night in 1964, Norah Henry goes into labour with her husband David (an orthopaedic surgeon) by her side, and David's nurse Caroline. Norah is expecting twins and soon delivers a healthy baby boy, Paul. After some complications David sedates Norah but soon realises that something isn't quite right. A little girl soon follows, and David is quick to realise that the little girl he has just named Phoebe, has Downs Syndrome. He tells Caroline to take Phoebe to an institution straight away and reluctantly she agrees, and when Norah wakes up, David tells her that their baby girl died during birth.
Meanwhile Caroline finds herself unable to abandon Phoebe as her father has, and decides to take Phoebe as her own. This book as you can imagine is full of emotions, and a continual sadness as Norah tries to come to terms with the loss of her daughter. It also tells the story of Caroline who is determined not to hide her daughter away as some would wish.
It is hard to read this book and not think of it as a present day setting, however with the prejudices Caroline and Phoebe are facing, it is important that the book is read in the context it is meant.
This book in places is harrowing and is certainly not an easy read. It is full of emotions and scenarios which as a mother I found difficult to grasp or even want to. However, it is definitely worth a read, but have the tissues handy!
Kim Edwards has also written a collection of sort stories called The Secrets of a Fire King, The Memory Keeper's Daughter is her first novel.
Paperback version: 401 pages
£2.75 at Amazon for a used copy, or check out your local library!
In 1964, happily married newlyweds David and Norah Henry are expecting their first child. Being a doctor, David delivers the baby himself with the help of his nurse, Caroline Gill. A gorgeous and healthy little boy named Paul is born - everything they could have dreamed of. But when Norah begins having more contractions after giving birth to Paul, David suddenly realises that they are going to be the parents of twins. When the next baby enters the world, David notices the way her eyes slant slightly upwards and her slightly flat nose. The little girl that they would have named Phoebe has Downs Syndrome. David makes a quick decision and gives the baby to Caroline. He tells her to take the baby to a home, wanting to spare his wife the hurt of having a retarded child in a time when it was not understood, and consequently telling his wife that their baby girl had died.
But Caroline has been waiting for something amazing to happen to her all her life. Not being able to leave the baby in an impersonal home which is full of diseased and mental people, she makes a decision that will change her life forever as well as the lives of Phoebe's new and old families.
~ My Opinion ~
As soon as I read the blurb of The Memory Keeper's Daughter I knew this was something I wanted to read, having recently gotten into similar books such as Jodi Picolut's novels. Plus there was a comment on the front of the book by Picoult herself saying 'simply beautiful' which made it even more positive for me as I love Picoult's writing and so thought this must be a great read.
The storyline is an emotional and amazing one showing us the lives of two separate families with a very strong connection. The book is written showing the lives of both of the families so we see both Paul and Phoebe growing up separately. Norah and Paul live their lives believing that their daughter and sister, respectively, died at birth and they both try to deal with the grief of this in their own separate ways. Whereas David has to live with the guilt of carrying around this huge secret for his entire life. In a different town, Caroline's life is dramatically changed in a way she never thought possible and the arrival of Phoebe into her life turns her into a completely different person.
The story started off fairly quickly and went straight into the birth of the twins almost straight away. The first part of the book was great - finding out about the birth and how those affected by it dealt with it afterwards. However, about a third of the way into the book, it seemed to get very slow. We found out how the lives of all the characters progressed, jumping a few years every so often. Although it was a crucial part of the book to find out how each of the character's lives were changed by this event, to me, the long way Kim Edwards went about it seemed a little pointless and didn't really have any need to be in the book. Not so much of it anyway. Not until very close towards the end of the book did it begin to get more interesting when Caroline and David talk for the first time in over 20 years and things for both sets of families begin to spiral out of control from here.
Although the storyline was a brilliant one, I don't think the book was as well written as it could have been with such an amazing and emotional story. Only the beginning and ending of the book really captured my interest but the middle section just ruined it for me as it made it very slow and uninteresting and a little tedious.
If Jodi Picoult had written this story, I can only imagine how amazing the book would have been but, for Kim Edwards, this wasn't a brilliant one.
This book is soooo interesting! it tells the story about a father who has twins, a boy and a girl. The boys is normal and healthy and the girl has classic downs syndrome. The father goes on to tell his wife that their daughter died during birth, when he secretley gives the baby to a nurse to take to an institution. Howver the nnurse can not bear to see such a beautiful child sent to an institution and takes the baby to start a new life. The story goes on to explain the children gorwing up separatley and the emotions and experiences of both families since the event.
This book is really interesting and very hard to put down. Some parts of the book do seem to drag a littleh, but curiousity of how it all unfolds keeps you plodding on and it's worth the effort.
The author of this book has won sevral award including the Hemingway Award, Whiting Award and Nelson Algren Award, all of which she deserves. Her writing really sets the scene in the book and you can eaily picture the characters and the events as they unfold!
At the heart of this story is a worm of a secret that burrows so deep it tears a family apart. Layered over this core are the histories of several alternately sympathetic and irritating characters.
After delivering his (unexpected) twins, Doctor David Henry is disturbed to realise that, although the boy is perfect, the girl is a 'classic' 'mongoloid'. Much of the interest in this section springs from the dispassionate way in which he handles this situation. Baby Phoebe is sent away with a nurse who David has instructed to hand the child over to an institution to live out (what he imagines) will be a short and pain filled life. All this is achieved before Norah, David's wife, even awakens after the birth. When she does, David impulsively tells her that Phoebe died at birth. It is this secret that will rub away at their relationship over the ensuing years.
Caroline Gill, a lonely nurse who harbours feelings for the doctor, cannot bear to hand the child over to an institution and chooses to flee the town with the child. Phoebe becomes her great love and reason for living, as she chooses a relationship that few women would envy.
This is largely all the plot the novel bothers with. Characters think, mope and gaze their way through the novel, having the odd fight to stir up the pain surrounding Phoebe's birth. Initially promising, the length of time over which the novel stretches certainly shows the consequences of a hasty act, but seems surprisingly divorced from life because of this. Much of the action is summarized and even key events are more mentally realised through characters' reflections than actually acted out. Personally, this slowed my initially enthusiastic reading pace.
The language is beautiful and enjoyable to read, which allowed me to continue reading long past the time when my desire to find out what happened had evaporated.
This has been billed as a great novel for book clubs, and I would agree that the issues it raises and the ways that characters respond to the central idea of Downs Syndrome is interesting. Ultimately then this is a novel to give you ideas for discussion, rather than a gripping read in its own rights. Through trying to distinguish each of the characters by giving them an individual voice and sharing their mental wanderings, Edwards actually makes them largely indistinguishable.
Read it at the beach and discuss it at the water cooler, but don't necessarily expect to find yourself gripped or wanting to reread it any time soon.
Just finished reading this book and had to write a review as it kept me awake every night!!
Dont read if your sensitive! its such a sad tale starting way back in 1964. David Henry is a happily married orthopedic surgeon. His his wife, Norah, goes into labor in the middle of a snowstorm and David realizes that the birth will have to take place in his own office instead of at the hospital as planned. Unbeknownst to the couple, Norah is carrying twins, a boy and a girl. When David delivers the second baby, he notices that she has Downs Syndrome features.
David, unable to bear the idea of causing his wife the pain that he knows comes with a Down's syndrome child, asks his nurse Caroline to take the girl to a home and then tells Norah that the baby died. After seeing the conditions at the "home for the feebleminded," Caroline cannot bear to leave the baby there. She leaves town determined to raise the child on her own.
So the twins begin their lives, separated at birth. So also begins a quarter century of secret keeping and hidden loss. Phoebe is raised lovingly by Caroline, who must struggle against societal prejudices in order to give Phoebe the same opportunities as other children, while Paul grows up in a household filled with unexplained tension, ever touched by the shadow of the sister he never knew. Some of these prejudices i found to be very shocking!!!!
This is Kim Edward's first novel and is not an easy one to read. Filled with a haunting sadness, painful decisions and far-reaching consequences. I would urge you to read this book within the context of its setting..in the early 60's. The thought of disposing of a child because of Downs Syndrome is upsetting, appalling and inhumane.
Despite all the sadness and heartache I read The Memory Keeper's Daughter as a commentary on love and hope, focusing more on the relationship between Caroline and her adopted child, Phoebe. I found Caroline is a inspritaional force for change and rights for her daughter, insisting the world see Phoebe as a person capable of learning and of ability.
This book is such a beautiful yet such a heart wrenching story!
How can someone know that the decisions they make in life are the right ones? What's more, how can we know how these decisions will affect our lives and the lives of others? This is the basic theme of the book "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" by Kim Edwards. To set the stage, it is 1964 and we find Dr. David Henry is taking his wife Nora to give birth in the middle of a blizzard. Finding it too difficult to get to the hospital, he instead stops at his clinic and calls in his nurse to assist him. The first child, a boy they call Paul, is perfect. But the second child, a girl named Phoebe has Downs Syndrome. Dr. Henry makes one of those decisions and instead of telling his wife about Phoebe, he gives the child to his nurse Caroline to be taken to an institution, and then says that Phoebe died. But when push comes to shove, Caroline can't bring herself to leave the child in that horrible place David sent her to, and instead, keeps Phoebe and leaves town to raise her on her own. The rest of the novel follows these two tracks - David, Nora and Paul on one side, with Caroline and Phoebe on the other.
The concept of this novel is, as I've already stated, very interesting. Here we watch the affects of these two decisions, as the years go by. On the one hand, David's lie to his wife, and subsequent fear that if she got pregnant again, the child might also be retarded, causes him to pull away from her. This also means that Nora's devastation at the loss of her daughter isn't addressed by her husband, making her feel abandoned. On the other hand, Caroline not only has to deal with raising a child on her own in the 1960s, but that child has very special needs as well - doubling the difficulty of her situation. What's more, we soon understand that Caroline was secretly in love with Dr. Henry and through this act, has substituted the love she hoped to get from him with the child she essentially stole from him.
All this is an excellent basis for multiple character studies, which Edwards pulls off with aplomb. We watch David become more and more introverted and soon he turns to photography to try to express his emotions - eventually taking it from being a simple hobby to the level of artistry. It is no surprise that as he becomes more adept with the camera, the theme of his work ends up being "things aren't as they initially appear". Nora's reaction to the lack of attention she gets from David is to find it elsewhere, in her case, in the arms of other men. Caroline goes from being weak, lovelorn and sidelined to a strong mother who champions mainstreaming children with Downs Syndrome into regular schools. There's also an interesting parallel/counterpoint going on with the twins, Paul and Phoebe. Paul rebels against following in his father's footsteps and taking the easy path by wanting his love for music to become his career, even though he knows he must be extraordinary to succeed, while Phoebe fights her disabilities by attempting to make her life as conventional as possible. Edwards pulls us in and makes us believe in all these people with both raw and real emotions in a simple prose style that that belies the complexities of the situations they find themselves in.
On this level, this book is a true success, and it is no surprise that it has joined the ranks of other best sellers such as "Lovely Bones" and "The Time Traveler's Wife". But where this book differs from those is that "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" is set completely within the realms of reality, while "Lovely Bones" and "The Time Traveler's Wife" ask you to suspend normal belief and accept something remarkable. Unfortunately, Edwards waxes over some anomalies that made me ultimately wary of this book. For instance, how can you have a funeral for a child if there's no body being buried? What about the birth and death certificates? How is it possible that no one was even the slightest bit suspicious of a woman carrying around a newborn who must obviously look like she had never been pregnant? Reasonably speaking, Caroline has committed a heinous crime by kidnapping Phoebe, and yet there are no ramifications or penalties. Sure, what she did was ultimately a good thing, but legally she did something terribly wrong. Let's not even discuss an even more logistical, if not legal question that comes up later in the book when we find out a secret from David Henry's past.
Yes, these are only technically problematic, and perhaps these obstacles were actually overcome and Edwards just left these details out, in order to economize on the prose and not bog us down in petty details. Putting these aside, I still had some problems with this book. Firstly, the one person who I think should have reacted most intensely later in the book - Nora - seems to accept everything with only simple surprise, some (seemingly misplaced) regret, and only a slight bit of anger. It just doesn't fit, and broke Nora's believability for me. There's also an extra sub-plot and new character that comes in later in the book which felt very arbitrary and, if you ask me, was totally unnecessary, since I don't think it brings any new insights into any of the characters already introduced. So while I was basically fascinated with this book for more than two thirds of it, the last third of this novel became more and more implausible with the characters getting less and less convincing. Sure, the situations are somewhat incredible, but they all could reasonably happen. And this isn't a fantasy novel or even one with magical reality. In that case, why did Edwards ask us to accept such totally unrealistic actions in her characters?
Now you understand why I gave only three stars to this book, despite the fact that it is lovely to read, with the narrative written with what I would call sophisticated simplicity. For most of the novel the characters are extremely well drawn and are very believable (up to a point). The story has some fascinating aspects to it that - to my knowledge - have never been investigated before, even if Edwards didn't make everything seem technically authentic. But the main theme of how certain decisions can affect ones whole life came through loud and clear, and this along with the literary quality of the writing overall, is probably why this book has received such acclaim. I honestly believe that this book is just a bit too flawed for my taste, but for those willing to ignore those things I had difficulty with, I will still recommend it.
Thanks for reading!
Davida Chazan © October 2008
There is actually an official website for this book with interesting information about both the book and the author, Kim Edwards, and that can be found at http://www.memorykeepersdaughter.com/
This book is available new from Amazon for £4.95 or used from 1p through their marketplace.
Paperback: 416 pages, Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd (26 April 2007), Language English, ISBN-10: 0141030143, ISBN-13: 978-0141030142
I was lent this book by a friend & was looking forward to reading it following some really impressive reviews.
It tells the story of a young couple who are expecting a child, and unable to get to hospital due to thick snow, Norah's doctor husband David delivers the baby at his surgery, with the help of his nurse. As the story begins in the 1960's before sophisticated scans, the couple are unaware that Norah has actually carried twins, so following her delivering a healthy boy, she then also gives birth to a daughter, who unfortunately suffers from Downs Syndrome.
David has suffered a loss in his childhood of his sister June to a similar fate, and in a moment of madness he asks his nurse to take the baby girl to an institution to be cared for, and tells his wife that her daughter has died. Here begins the story of David living with the guilt of what he's done, whilst Norah grieves for the daughter she never knew and their son Paul grows up believing that his sister passed away. Meanwhile David's nurse, Caroline, sets off for the institution to take baby Phoebe to begin her life there, but on arrival realises she can't leave her. She takes Phoebe home, moves town & dedicates her life to bringing Phoebe up as her own child.
This novel is beautifully written, and although I didn't feel like I grew close to the characters of Norah & David, you almost begin to understand as you learn more about his childhood why he thought that David was doing the right thing for his family, but also sympathise with him as he begins to regret what he's done but knows there is no return down the path that he has set out on. As Norah & David grow apart & Paul feels some disconnection from his parents, Phoebe & Caroline make a good life for themselves, and although David never meets his daughter face to face, he keeps informed of her progress via letters from Caroline & eventually considers telling Norah of his secret.
I didn't find this book as 'un-put-down-able' as some I have read, but it's quite a thought-provoking read & I'd definitely recommend it for anyone who likes novels in the style of Jodi Picoult for example. A good read!
The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards is the moving story of a family torn apart by secrets. The story begins in 1964 and a snowy night where Dr David Henry has to deliver his wife Nora's baby with the help of a nurse. A baby boy is born with no complications but then David realises that his wife has twins and the second child is delivered, a little girl with Down's syndrome. David then makes a decision that will change his and his family's life forever. He decides to give the child to Caroline the nurse to take to an institution whilst telling his wife that the baby died. Caroline takes baby Phoebe to the institution however on seeing it realises that she could not leave the baby in such a place and decides to bring her up as her own child.
The book tells the story of the struggles that the characters face coping with the secrets, life and the sense of loss. Nora feels a great emptiness in her life, although she has her son Paul she grieves for the loss of Phoebe. Caroline meanwhile struggles to fight for better education for Phoebe and to try to make a good life for her. David struggles with the decision he made although he believes it was the right one. His relationship with Nora is difficult and he immerses himself in his photography, capturing memories yet never managing to face up to the truth.
There are two different stories going on, each is very separate yet they are entangled because of hidden secrets which lead to a mess of lies. The book made me wonder what was going through David Henry's mind on that night that would make him make that one decision which turned his family's lives upside down. He thought that he was making the right decision for his wife and for him yet he never stopped to think about consulting her and what she wanted.
It's a great idea for a story and was an idea that was suggested to the author based on a true story of a man who as an adult found out that he had a brother who had been born with Downs Syndrome and placed in an institution at birth, his existence had been kept a secret from his mother and the whole family and he died unknown. The author met with families who had been affected by Downs Syndrome to understand their lives, struggles and the joys. I think this research really shows in her writing and in describing the characters. We can see how in 1964 people faced so much more discrimination, it has improved but still has a long way to go.
This is a fantastic book, it's very emotional and you really get to know the characters and try to understand why they did what they did and you discover some of the reasons for the decisions they made as the story continues. It is a very sad story but there are also times of joy and hope.
I really enjoyed this book, it is beautifully written, and very moving. The book really draws you into the story and you want to keep reading to find out what is going to happen and whether the characters will be able to come to some sort of peace in their lives.
I don't want to spoil the ending of this story but what I will say is that I think the way the author ended it was good. Sometimes endings of stories can be very disappointing if they are far too predictable or leave you not knowing what is going on but this wasn't the case in this book.
I haven't read any of her other books but based on The Memory Keepers Daughter I will certainly look out for her again.
New York Times Bestseller
It was originally brought to my attention through Richard and Judy who featured it in their Book club. It received an impressive review for a relatively unheard of author and I was intrigued.
I bought this book as part of my mums birthday present. My mum is a midwife so I thought she might enjoy the subject matter of the book...I secretly couldn't wait until she had finished so I could read it.
I was reading the book on holiday in Egypt so maybe that's why I found it a little hard to get into at first. I was so distracted by all that serious sunbathing that I had no time to read!
Eventually I made some headway with the book and found myself starting to enjoy it. The story line is compelling but I think that the author could have made so much more of this idea. The book was let down by the style in which it was written. I am aware that I am not an expert and I would be lucky to write a best-selling debut novel. But as an avid reader, I just found that the descriptive passages of the novel were excessively lengthy. After reading a page sometimes my mind had totally wandered off the subject because I had got so tangled up in an endless description of some small detail! Maybe this is a sign that the author just really enjoyed writing the book and used it as an opportunity to express her creativity rather than just churning out a page-turning read.
However, what I did love about this book was the emotional side. It truly was touching and I had tears in my eyes at so many points. The plot line also raises some very contentious issues and it had me debating the facts with my mum for hours! So it would be a perfect read for a book group.
I don't want to go too far into the details of the plot because it would only ruin the story for any potential readers. Put simply, a doctor delivers his wife's twin babies one cold winters night because they can't get to the hospital because of the snow. It should have been the happiest night of his life, but it was instantly recognisable that one of the little babies was Down's Syndrome. He keeps this child a secret from his wife and orders the nurse to take her to an institution for disabled children.
The book focuses on the stresses and strain this type of deep secret can put on a family.
I decided to purchase this book as a change from reading biographies and I am very impressed with the enitre book. I did not go out with any particular book in mind and not quite sure what it was that attracted me to this one, maybe that it has a sticker on the front saying that it has been featured in Richard and Judy's Summer Read.
the Memory Keepers Daugher is written by Kim Edwards who I am not familiar with but the book states that it was the multi-million copy US No 1 best seller so I though that it must be quite good.
The book is split into sections.
1964, 1965, 1970, 1977, 1982, 1988 and 1989
The book starts with an introduction to Dr David Henry and Norah. We read that they have married and she is pregnant with their first child.
Dr David works in the local Doctors and has a faithful nurse called Caroline Gill, who has a crush on him and thinks that she is in love, When Norah goes into labour there is a terrible snow storm which sees her Doctor not being able to attend the birth so her husband Dr David Henry has to deliver his own child with the assistance of Caroline. When David brings his son into the world he is overjoyed and then the real problems start when unbeknown to anyone Norah was pregnant with twins and also ivves birth to a Daughter. The son who gets called Paul is perfectly healty but the daughter who Norah said she would name Phoebe is she was to have a girl is born with Down Syndrome. Dr David is very shocked by this event and hands the child to Carioline Gill with instructions to thake her to a special hospital who looks after 'retarded' hildren. David then calmly tells his wife that the second child, Phoebe, was still born. There is an underlying deep sadness to David grief for his daughter as we learn that he lost his sister when they were young to a heart condition and how his mother never got over the grief of her death, David does not want to put Norah through the pain of this so he thinks he is doing the right thing.
Caroline carries out the wishes of the Doctor against her own judgement and drives to the hospice with small Phoebe but when she arrives she decides that she cannot leave the small precious child is such a horrible place so leaves with her. Norah is left grieving for her daughter and also struggling with the emotion for her new son. David has now started a lie which he feels that he cannot take back as in those times Down Syndrome was not so commonly accepted adn he thought that it would be too much for Norah to take.
As the story goes on we learn that Caroline has decided to move away and to bring Phoebe up as her own daughter, there are many challenges which she faces, including her car breaking down and her meeting a very friendly truck driver called Al. Norah goes behind Davids back and holds a memorial service for her daughter and Caroline attends but stays at the back with the intention of telling Norah the truth. When Caroline finds this too hard she leaves town and takes baby Phoebe with her.
The book now start to split into two sub parts, the life and trials of Norah, David and Paul and then Caroline and Phoebe.
Paul is developing well and starts school like any child his age should but Caroline is forced to fight hard to get Phoebe into a school and the education which she deserves.
As the children are growing up we see the differences in them start to appear and how for twins they are so different.
Norah and David start to have problems in their marrage as David seems to have put a wall up between himself and Norah and buries his head in photography. Norah tries to talk about the problem but avid just isn't interested. Norah is still struggling with her grief as she feels David doesnt seem bothered.
Caroline again meets Al who she met ion the begining of the book when she had broken down and they soon develope a romance and marry. Sheis very open with Al about Phoebe and how she came to be bringing her up. All accepts this and they start to live as a family.
We dont here much about Caroline, Al and Phoebe during the middle of the book, it is more centered around Norah, David and Paul and the breakdown of their marriage. Norah has found that she is having affairs as she thinks that she is finding happiness and love with these men which she does not get from her husband. David is aware of these but does nothing about it as he is still consumed with guilt over giving up Phoebe. Paul developes into a teenager and as normal goes off the rails a bit and argues constantly with his Father over his love for music and wanting to take it up as a career. His fater want him to do something 'proper' and does not see a future in music for Paul.
David pursues his photography and turns it into a career and his work takes off, when he is hosting an evening at a gallery of his work a blast from his past turns up in the form of Caroline. She decides that she is still not ready to tell David where his daughter is living and so David has to continue sending letters and money to a different address. David learns that his daughter is doing well and striving as a teenager which he is very suprised about. He is very emotional about this meeting and goes missing for a few days. Upon his return Norah and David decide that their marriage is over.
We then skip a few years to the next section of the book where David and Norah have made new lives for themselves and Norah is doing very well in the business which she bought herself. Norah now has a new love interest and David remains her friend. Paul has taken up a career in music and Phoebe also has a job working in a local copying shop.
Norah and David both carryon with their seperate lives and remain friends. Devestation strikes when David is struck by a fatal heart attack and dies. Norah is shocked by this but more shocked is Caroline and he has taken his secret about Phoebe to his grave.
I am going to stop now as the last part of the book has some great reading. I do not want to spoil it for you, does the secret about Phoebe finally come out or not?
Also in the book we meet some other characters like Bree, Norahs sister and Al but they do not take away from the main story and do add a bit of depth to it.
I found that despite the story going between the lives of Caroline and Phoebe back to Norah, David and Paul it was very easy to follow and with the dates being put at the begining of the chapters it was very easy to follow and I never got lost.
The end of the book sees a types conversation from Kim Edwards which is very interesting.
The book has 408 pages which are all great. I would definately recommend this book to anyone as a great read packed full of emotions and how hard it is to live with such a lie.
The book was published in 2005 by Penguin books.
I hope that you have found this review interesting and that I have not given away too much about the plot or the ending.
I am reviewing the paperback edition of the book and not the audio copy like Ciao have listed it.
The "Memory Keeper's Daughter" was not a book I had initially set out to read. But, during my recent house move, I was between libraries and in the unusual position of being stuck for a book. My local Borders was offering best-selling paperbacks on a "buy one, get one half price offer", and after choosing the one I really did want to read, this was my choice for the half price book. I was swayed by the fact that it was written by an assistant Professor of English, Kim Edwards, and was suggested by Borders to therefore be literary fiction. It was also billed as a multi-million copy US number 1 bestseller, and books don't achieve that without an awful lot people thinking it was very good. It certainly looked worth a try.
The book opens in 1964, with newlywed couple David and Norah Henry expecting their first child in the small town of Lexington, Kentucky. When Norah goes into labour late one night in the middle of a freak snowstorm, David decides the safest course of action is to drive his wife to the local clinic where he is a doctor, rather than risk taking her further to the hospital in such bad weather. The clinic nurse, Caroline Gill, manages to join the Henrys, but the obstetrician David called out crashes his car in icy conditions on the way to meet them. There is only one option left: David must deliver his own child. His firstborn is a healthy baby boy, who he names Paul. Then, unexpectedly, the blessing doubles as Norah has a second child, this time a girl. Before the father can rejoice, however, he notices that his daughter has Down's syndrome and his moment of joy turns to tragedy. Because it is 1964, David believes there is no hope for this girl, and her future offers nothing but pain and grief. As a child, his younger sister died from heart complications associated with Down's syndrome, and he saw how the loss of her destroyed his parents. Determined that this should not be repeated in his family, he takes what he thinks is the logical and compassionate next step: he asks Caroline to take his daughter to an institution, while he tells his heavily sedated wife that their second child died.
Caroline, an obedient woman with a crush on David, quietly obeys this order and sets out into the early morning with the newborn. Over the course of the journey, she develops misgivings about her task and grows to feel affection for the unwanted baby. When she arrives, she finds the institution to be an appalling place; grim, unwelcoming, and with little dignity afforded to its inmates. She carries the baby back to the car and drives her home, feeling that she can offer little Phoebe a better quality of life than she would have in the institution. Although acutely aware of how difficult it would be to raise this child - both medically, and socially in a world with little sympathy for unmarried mothers or disabilities - Caroline vows to do everything she can to raise the girl herself.
These two decisions form the core of "The Memory Keeper's Daughter", and set up an intriguing premise that draws the reader into the story and makes you want to know what happens to the five central characters from that point onwards. As the story intertwines and contrasts the greatly differing lives of the twins Paul and Phoebe, we see them growing up in different environments into totally different people over the following 25 years. The fact that Phoebe survived and thrived despite her father's bleak predictions for her life is quite tragic, as he deprived his own wife of the love of a daughter.
It seems clear that the key question that Edwards was asking when she wrote this book was "how could anyone live with themselves if they did this?". The answer, it seems, is not very well. The world of the Henry family, so recently one of hope and joy, becomes a melancholy place. Haunted by the decision he made, David manages to be there physically for his wife but is emotionally unavailable for her, as he cannot share her grief. This conflict begins to take its toll on the Henry marriage, and is strongly felt by young Paul as he grows up in a world defined by the void left by his sister. Caroline, on the other hand, grows as a character from the challenges presented by her sudden change in circumstances, becoming something of a heroine in the book - she is the one person in the novel who seems to have an infallible moral compass. As a story exploring moral values, then, it is somewhat heavy-handed and prescriptive; we are told in no uncertain terms that what David did was wrong and that bad things therefore happened to him, while saintly Caroline gets more lucky breaks than chance alone might account for after saving Phoebe. We are given no room for any grey areas or moral ambiguity, which bugged me slightly. While I do agree with the author that David shouldn't have done what he did, the reader could be forgiven for thinking that Caroline's actions weren't exactly snow white either. Remember, Caroline didn't consult Norah about the fate of her daughter any more than David did.
But this is more than just a straightforward moral tale - Edwards also uses it as a history of feminism. A key theme in it is women being denied choice and struggling to reclaim power. At the start of book, we find both Norah and Caroline as quiet, passive women awaiting saviour through marriage and romance respectively. By the time it finishes 25 years later, both characters have changed beyond recognition, becoming stronger, more assertive, more independent, although in different ways. The comparisons between Norah and her free-spirited sister Bree serve to highlight the feminist theme, picking up themes such as the differing relationships the two women experience.
The landscape of regret and family secrets is hardly new territory to literature, and while "The Memory Keeper's Daughter" is a solid enough read I don't think it ultimately achieves all it set out to do. The writing is readable enough, but is uneven and lacks the elegance and poetic touches you might expect from a literature professor or indeed from a novel billed as literary fiction. After the strong opening chapter, my interest in the story gradually dwindled as it developed, and by the end it was something of an effort to pick the book up at all. I have heard other reviewers describe it as powerful and moving, but I didn't really experience this - perhaps after so recently reading "We Need to Talk about Kevin" (which was literary and powerfully moving) this book was never going to have the same impact on me. It was adequately enjoyable, but not worth buying. It is a good book but not a great one; one to borrow from the library rather than to buy if you want to bother with it at all.
Paperback, 408 Pages, including a short interview with the author.
Published by Penguin (2005).