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The Best Books About Motherhood

I love books that deal with all aspects of motherhood, but I particularly enjoy those that investigate its darker side – those times when everything goes wrong and the child makes life extremely difficult for the parents. Unfortunately I have run out of books with this theme and so would love to know if you have any recommendations for me.  

My favourite books about motherhood


We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

We Need to Talk About Kevin is my favourite book about motherhood. It portrays a mother’s worst nightmare and discusses how responsible a parent is for their child’s actions. It is frighteningly realistic and I still think about it all the time.


The Fifth Child by Doris Lessing

The Fifth Child shares many themes with We Need to Talk About Kevin, but the child is so evil it verges on fantasy. The Fifth Child contains a good discussion about whether or not it is fair to give one child more attention than their siblings, if they are having difficulties.

The Cuckoo Boy – Grant Gillespie

The Cuckoo Boy has many similarities to the above two books, but I especially admired the nature verus nurture debate.

The Nobodies Album – Carolyn Parkhurst

The Nobodies Album is very different in structure to the other books here, but I admired its originality. It examines the relationship between a mother and her adult son and shows how parental responsibilty changes over time.

Night Waking

Night Waking – Sarah Moss 

An accurate and often comic insight into the difficulites of raising young children. I think all new mothers will recognise some of the scenes from this book.

Peripheral Vision – Patricia Ferguson

Through the eyes of three different women this book shows how the relationship between a mother and child can be both powerful and fragile.

Beside the Sea – Veronique Olmi

A devastatingly sad book about what can happen when parenting becomes too much.

The Birth of Love – Joanna Kavenna

The Birth of Love shows how child birth has changed over time and gives a frightening prediction of how things might be in the future.


2008 Orange Prize

Monster Love by Carol Topolski

Monster Love Longlisted for the 2008 Orange Prize

Five words from the blurb: perfect, next door, gullible, alive, wrong

A few weeks ago I read Kim’s review of Carol Topolski’s new book, Do No Harm, and noticed that Kim described Topolski’s earlier book, Monster Love, as: 

“…one of the most disturbing novels I’d ever come across.”

These words are like catnip to me and so I checked out a copy the next time I went to the library.

Monster Love is set in a beautiful suburban street. A new couple, the Gutteridges, move in and they appear to be a normal couple, but behind closed doors they are subjecting their daughter to an almost unimaginable horror. The book is told from the view-point of those who knew the Gutteridges; people who feel a terrible burden of guilt on discovering the truth, as with hindsight it is possible they could have done something to prevent the suffering.

With her, it was like reaching for something quite ordinary, like a knife or a fork, and banging your knuckles against a pane of perspex. You have a couple more goes until, blowing on the bruises, you give up and look for the cutlery in another drawer. She was never anything but polite, never challenging or controversial, smiled prettily at one’s jokes, but it never felt like a response, more the logical result of a calculation.

This book had a fantastic beginning – a dark sense of foreboding built up as we slowly discovered what was happening inside that home. I found the insight into the minds of all the people frighteningly realistic and the scene in which the police finally entered the house was shockingly well written.

Unfortunately everything began to unravel once I knew what had happened. I found the couple’s reasoning all too believable, but the book had lost its forward momentum. All my sympathies were with the child and the guilt ridden acquaintances and so discovering the events in the couple’s past that had triggered their malice held little interest. I also found that the characters all tended to sound alike and so the chapter headings were vitally important in revealing who was speaking.

Topolski’s career as a psychoanalytic psychotherapist has clearly been useful in creating a realistic insight into the minds of a wide range of people, but I wish that the truth had been revealed later in the novel.

Despite these criticisms this book had enough to interest me all the way to the end and I’m keen to try her latest book, Do No Harm, at some point in the future.


Have you read anything written by Carol Topolski?

2010 Chick Lit Other Prizes

The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell

 Winner of 2010 Costa Book Award for Fiction

Five words from the blurb: Soho, birth, motherhood, women, connected.

The Hand That First Held Mine has a dual narrative which follows two women who are separated by 50 years in time, but dealing with many of the same issues. The first thread follows Lexie, a 21-year-old girl, who leaves her 1950s Devon home to start a new life in London. She begins a relationship with a married man and struggles to deal with the problems this causes.

The second thread follows Elina, a Finnish woman who has just given birth to her first baby. The traumatic emergency caesarean affected her and her partner, Ted, deeply. As both struggle to come to terms with the near-death experience they also have to learn to look after their demanding new baby. The writing was vivid and packed with emotion – perfectly describing the turmoil that a new baby brings to a household.

Ted registers again how pale she is, how dark and deep are the circles around her eyes, how thin her limbs look. He is possessed with an urge to apologise – for what he isn’t sure. He scans his mind for something to say, something light and perhaps witty, something to take them out of themselves, to remind them that life is not all like this. But he can’t think of anything and now the baby is rearing back, crying, fidgeting, fists flailing, and Elina is having to open her eyes, sit up again, lift him to her shoulder, rub his back, untangle his hands from her hair and Ted cannot bear it.

I connected with Elina’s thread much more than Lexie’s. I think this is a combination of the fact that I have young children and so can relate to the feelings of a new mother, but also because I have little sympathy for someone who has an affair with a married man. Lexie’s thread felt like a well written piece of chick-lit whilst Elina’s thread had a bit more depth than that.

Both threads come together towards the end of the book, but rather than being impressed by the connection it all felt a bit contrived to me.

The book was easy to read and gripping in places, but I wished that the plot had been a bit more complex or thought-provoking. This book reminded me of  Peripheral Vision, but I felt that The Hand That First Held Mine didn’t have the same complexity or depth. I’m still thinking about the issues of motherhood raised in Peripheral Vision, whilst The Hand That First Held Mine offered no new perspective on the subject.

Overall, this was an entertaining diversion, but I don’t expect to remember much about it in a few months time.

The thoughts of other bloggers:

Every word is perfectly chosen, every sentence is perfectly constructed. Fleur Fisher in her World

…it didn’t pack the same punch for me as After You’d Gone… Leafing Through Life

It’s a vivid story of motherhood that honors the whole woman. The Literate Housewife