Review: The Mothers by Brit Bennett

mothers-britThe Mothers is an outstanding debut novel: an engaging, poignant, and thought-provoking read about the importance of motherhood, and the hardships faced by girls who don’t have a female figure in their lives to help guide them. Bennett’s novel explores friendship, the impact of secrets, and the consequences of disloyalty, as three teenagers grow into young adults. Most importantly, it bestows insight into the lives of middle-class people of colour; a viewpoint I’ve rarely seen explored in all my years reading fiction, which is possibly my own fault — I don’t go looking for such stories, when I really should — but equally, such stories don’t seem to be published, which says a lot about the state of the industry, sure, but also about readers’ willingness to read such tales. As author Angela Flournoy put it in a New York Times article: “Writing about ordinary black people is actually extraordinary. It’s absolutely its own form of advocacy.” That’s the point, I think: teenagers Nadia, Luke and Aubrey could easily be characters of any race. Their coming-of-age story — their interwoven destinies — has nothing to do with their race.

Few novels are as poetically searing as Brit Bennett’s The Mothers. Few books are able to say so much with so little. These three teens are united by the hardships they’ve already been exposed to: Nadia’s mother committed suicide, leaving no note, no explanation; Luke’s promising football career was ended by a freak injury; and Aubrey was forced away from home because of her abusive stepfather. When Nadia learns she’s carrying Luke’s baby, she decides not to keep it; Luke reluctantly scrounges the money for the abortion. It becomes their secret, which endures, leakily, for decades; it brings them together and tears them apart, time and time again, trailing them into adulthood. Even though I sensed where the story was headed, and the heartbreak that awaited, I couldn’t put the book down. I was crushed, repeatedly, by the ill-fated decisions made by the trio; but I continued reading, hoping for the best.

The eponymous “mothers” of the Upper Room church community serve as the novel’s narrator — their introspection frames Bennett’s novel — but if I’m honest, the conceit feels a little forced and unnecessary. There’s no need for the meta narrative, and it can be a tad intrusive at times; but in no way does it detract from the brilliance of Bennett’s debut.

Truly one of my favourite books of the year.

Buy the book here…

Review: Hush Hush by Laura Lippman

hush-hushI am not a fan of long running crime series. While a recurring character can be like a familiar friend sometimes the longevity of a series means it falls into the realm of incredulity. Tess Monaghan was a character I fell in love with but was also quite happy when she was put on the back burner. Added to this is the fact that the stand-alone novels Laura Lippman started writing were truly exceptional and amazingly got better and better which meant Tess wasn’t too badly missed (although she did pop up from time to time in these stand-alone novels).

This is the 12th Tess Monaghan book but only the third one since 2008 (one of which was a novella). While I was not overly excited to see Tess return I was still keen to read as it had been a long while since last she appeared. And I have to say I did miss her. Not only was it great to have her back and refamiliarise with her sense of humour, appetite and life but I think this is one of the best Tess Monaghan novels yet.

The last we saw of Tess she was pregnant and not enjoying it. We catch up with Tess three years later. Tess is balancing her life as a PI with her three-year old daughter Carla Scout and her de facto husband’s bar. Like all working families Tess’s life is in fine balance that is constantly tilted by the life of a toddler. Laura Lippman captures this balancing game brilliantly and Tess, despite a severe lack of confidence in herself, is perfectly suited for it.

Tess gets a case which she thinks is going to be perfect for paying the bills. A wealthy but controversial woman has returned to Baltimore from overseas. 12 years previously she gave custody of her two daughters to her husband after being found not guilty in the death of her third daughter by reason of insanity. She has returned to try to be a part of her now teenage daughters’ lives and to make a documentary film. Tess has been reluctantly hired to assess her security arrangements. A soft gig she takes despite misgivings about the woman’s intentions. But when strange notes begin being left for the woman and then quickly escalate Tess must try to put aside her own judgements to discover the truth. A truth no one wants to confront.

This novel is everything Laura Lippman has been doing so well in her standalone novels but this time with Tess Monaghan. Lippman takes a confronting but tragically all too familiar crime and explores the fallout, years later, for all those involved. Combined with the ups and downs of parenthood this is not only a page-turning addictive mystery but an exploration of motherhood and the lengths, good and bad, mothers will go to for their children.

Buy the book here…