The trope of the absent father crops up frequently enough so I was interested by the synopsis here which sees an absent mother returning to her family after a six year absence. Norah Wells walked out on her daughters Ella and Willa, her husband Adam and the dog Louis, leaving no explanation and never getting in touch. She returns to find much changed and that the Wells family home may not be ready to have her back. Ella has missed her mother desperately and has spun herself elaborate tales to explain Norah’s disappearance so she is filled with fury to discover that Norah left of her own volition. Willa was only a few months old when her mother left so it is another woman who she calls Mummy and that woman is left full of foreboding about what her role will be now that Norah has returned. And Adam? It was hard to see why all these women were so keen to have him. I read this book with very little feeling – a horrible scenario here is laid bare but it feels strangely detached. This was no astonishing read.
There was a lot of positive factors in this book; the younger child Willa was particularly sweet, with her extravagant imagination and obsession with foxes. Her sister Ella irritated me more but perhaps I should have been more sympathetic – she was fifteen, so many of us are annoying at that age. The dog Louis was truly lovely though and there was a neatness in how he was the only character able to divide his affection equally and without fuss between his erstwhile mistress Norah and Fay, the woman who has replaced her in the family. Adam was a weak man though, a self-professed neglectful father and poor husband who had failed all of the women around him – I kind of wished that they had all just pushed him out of the back door.
It’s a difficult situation for me to sympathise with I suppose – my own father shrugged his way out of family life shortly before my birth and none of the excuses I have ever heard for his action have ever convinced me – forgiveness happened a very long time ago, but the fact of the matter remains. Ella may have happy memories of her mother and perhaps she may find a way of connecting with that but there can be no real repair of what has been torn apart, betrayed, broken. The simple fact is that you cannot press pause on parenthood – I say this not to make light of it, having children is no small thing, but once the endeavour has been undertook, it should not be undone. The price for such misbehaviour is heavy and must be paid for a lifetime. Ella and Willa’s true mother is Fay.
This is one of those books that I know I would forget ever having read had I not reviewed it – it feels like an anecdote told of a friend of a friend of a friend, it did not touch me. I read other reviews that commented on how emotional it was and I felt nothing. I even got to thinking about differently our culture views women who abandon their children to their male equivalents – Norah had had no help from Adam and appeared to collapse under the weight of her responsibilities, so she is a creature worthy of a novel. A male equivalent, a man who found himself unfit for fatherhood, is a mere sentence, a footnote, because the behaviour is so commonplace. The one is no better than the other but again, Norah’s behaviour in itself is not particularly astonishing.
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on January 12th 2016
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