Catherine, Beth and Alex are three sisters, sadly estranged for a number of years, who are forced into a difficult and strained reunion following the death of the eponymous ‘Mother’. Having shared a tormented and abusive past, the sisters have all gone on to lead very separate lives.
Catherine is a successful business woman with the seemingly perfect family in a beautiful rural town. Perfect husband and beautiful twin daughters, she should be happy. And yet something is very wrong with her life. Something is missing. She is everything her mother told her she would never be. So why isn’t it enough?
Alex grew up to be the wild child. Alcoholic, angry, throwing away all of the relationships that had meant anything to her for the fear of being hurt. Being rejected if she allowed anyone to get too close and see the real her. Bitterness and resentment colour her feelings for Catherine and, by default, everyone else around her. She has gone on to become everything her mother told her she would be.
Beth is kind, quiet and loving. The peacemaker, putting everyone’s needs before her own. Left to care for their mother after she suffered a stroke, Beth set aside any dreams she may have had, sacrificing any chance of happiness in the process. She was more forgiving than her mother ever deserved.
When the funeral forces the sisters to face the long buried truth of their pasts, things begin to unravel for each of them, one by one. Catherine’s family is torn apart, Alex sinks further into a bottle and Beth… Beth smiles, denies and carries on. Can any of them overcome their own demons and salvage their future and, in doing so, can they also help each other the way they always used to as children?
‘Dear Mother’ is a very emotional look at the subject of abuse and the impact that is has on not so much the children, but the women they became. The violence of their past is not dealt with in any graphic detail. Just enough is inferred about injuries sustained to paint a very clear picture and yet not make it too hard for the reader to continue. There are parts which may make you wince, and parts in which your heart will go out to the children and wonder quite how such abuse was missed. But unfortunately, that is the reality of the time and the reality of abuse. Children often fear the consequence of speaking up more than they fear the pain of going home. Neighbours and friends are able to turn a blind eye, after all, it’s just a domestic concern. Something to be kept in the family. Let’s be honest, even today children die at the hands of an abusive parent and no-one sees anything until it is too late. Here the story is just reporting fact.
If you are sensitive to the subject matter, then it may be wise to exercise caution in reading. The abuse itself does not dominate, is not allowed to take centre stage too often, fed as it is, into the narrative at a time when the character in focus is forced to remember something from the past in order to confront it and, hopefully, move forward.
The story is told mainly through the eyes of Catherine and Alex, the two who seemingly have the biggest journey and the greatest struggle to return to the home that was the source of so much pain and fear. Even with their mother gone, the house still retains the shadows. The ghosts of the past. To that end, the style works really well, balancing Catherine’s almost clinical detachment and denial that there is anything wrong with her, with Alex’s low self-esteem and destructive nature, two very common and well observed characterisations of survivors of abuse. The pacing is just right, the tone and atmosphere in each setting reflective of the changing moods of the piece itself.
The subject matter is not trivialised. The reactions of the central characters are extremely well observed. I know some may wonder just how it can be that characters react in this way – isn’t it too clichéd to have an alcoholic and a workaholic? Can they really be fixed that easily? Well the honest answer is no. That is exactly what can happen. And there is no sense of things being ‘fixed’ at the end of this story. It is merely work in progress. It is an element of hope, but not of a promise of a happy future.
For me, the ending was very poignant and almost inevitable. From about 88% I knew where it was heading. And it made my eyes leak. In the middle of a motorway service station car park. It is making my eyes leak now. If there are typos in this last paragraph, then you know why.
This is a very moving, emotive and sometimes harrowing piece of writing. But it is beautifully written and carefully constructed, two things I have very much come to expect from Angela Marsons.
A very leaky, soggy and blubbery 5 stars.
My thanks to publishers Bookouture and NetGalley for the copy of ‘Dear Mother’ in exchange for my review.
But not to Angela Marsons.
She made me leak. 😉