Following my read Of Sarah Moss’s current novel Bodies Of Light which was a wonderful book, I decided to fish out my original review of her previous novel, which I then (and still do) recommend highly, but I felt had some flaws which prevented my complete surrender at the time. A surrender which WAS complete, on my part, with Bodies of Light.
Racked between self-realisation and biology,
There were times, early on this book, where I could read no more – for all the right reasons.
The overarching drive of this book is the painful, lacerating tug between `being a mother’ and `being me, and the need and right to be me’ The conflict of parenting, and the drive to be properly `there’ for the vulnerable, developing new being, without the entire loss of that self that is more than the parental role, is one which, in the main, is most intensely experienced, most intensely felt, by mothers.
The reason I had, continually, to stop reading, was because the struggle Anna, intellectual, academic, creative mother of two, had between being at times torn apart by the necessary, totally selfish, biological needs of the infant, and her own sense of self and history, were rendered so visceral, so empathised with by the reader, that I felt physically sick and anxious. She evokes brilliantly the water torture of the endless sleepless nights, with how to deal with a precocious, demanding, potentially always at risk ball of fearless, inquisitive, demanding two year old toddler life, whilst also balancing an older child with different needs.
Add to this the fact that father, Giles, mother Anna and children Raph (aged 7) and Moth (Timothy aged 2) have decamped to an ancestral Hebridean island, with no other residents. Both parents are loving and caring, and both have academic work which needs to be engaged in. Which of the two will find it less easy to switch off the demands of the child, and which will be able to do their work leaving the childcare to the other? No contest here! But this is more than a book about middle class angst, feminism, equal opportunities and high end problems within the chattering classes
Anna is researching attitudes to child rearing, from Freud onwards – but, through the discovery of a small child’s body on the deserted island, gets drawn in to investigating economic history – in a sense, there is a subtextual battle going on between Marx and Freud, which takes in the history of the Highland clearances, class, industrialisation and politics of our past.
Lest this sound incredibly dreary and worthy, the mix is given spice, warmth and humour by Anna’s own, mordant wit, and by the unintentional humour of what small children say, the monologues they have, and the way parents become able to switch instantly between childspeak and adult conversation. Raph, the older child, although clearly highly intelligent and precocious, actually seems to be closer to what one might expect of a 9 year old, and I wasn’t quite convinced by him as a 7 year old.
I had a few hesitations which stopped 5 stars – there was a little too much padding and repetition of the Moth interchanges, which began to get rather irritating. Perhaps that was the point, so that the reader inhabits the mother’s mixture of reaching a dangerous screaming point of wondering how far she might go to get a bit of peace and quiet away from the 2 year old funnies-when-you-hear-them-once, but wearing when they have been repeated. There was also too much repetition of Raph’s fears and thoughts, as well as FAR too much Moth inspired `Want Gruffalo’
I wished for a more tightly edited, slimmed down book – and better proof reading to have pushed me to 5 stars. There were various sentences which just didn’t make sense, had sentence order inverted (by adults, not by the wee ones) almost as if errors had happened in the galleys, in cut and paste, which had not been spotted.
However, the ending, and the way in which various strands of this generally absorbing, intelligent, well written, humorous and thought provoking book were pulled together, worked extremely well
A very interesting writer indeed and I hope her future books pair her with a better editor and a better proof reader
………………..And, armed with my high fives for Bodies Of Light, this one will get placed on the To Be Re-Read list AND I have bought her account of the year she spent in Iceland. She is a writer with a great sense for place and time, and, as someone who has a great fascination with (and fear of) the frozen Northlands, (me, not Moss) and the near endless days and endless nights, I know this one will be a ‘for me’ read!