Motherthing - Book Review
by Ainslie Hogarth
I received this ARC from NetGalley in exchange for a fair review.
A twisted take on grief and trauma, Motherthing is intriguing and at times provocative, but struggles to find its purpose.
When Ralph and Abby Lamb move in with Ralph’s mother, Laura, Abby hopes it’s just what she and her mother-in-law need to finally connect. After a traumatic childhood, Abby is desperate for a mother figure, especially now that she and Ralph are trying to become parents themselves. Abby just has so much love to give—to Ralph, to Laura, and to Mrs. Bondy, her favorite resident at the long-term care home where she works. But Laura isn’t interested in bonding with her daughter-in-law. She’s venomous and cruel, especially to Abby, and life with her is hellish.
When Laura takes her own life, her ghost haunts Abby and Ralph in very different ways: Ralph is plunged into depression, and Abby is terrorized by a force intent on destroying everything she loves. To make matters worse, Mrs. Bondy’s daughter is threatening to move Mrs. Bondy from the home, leaving Abby totally alone. With everything on the line, Abby comes up with a chilling plan that will allow her to keep Mrs. Bondy, rescue Ralph from his tortured mind, and break Laura's hold on the family for good. All it requires is a little ingenuity, a lot of determination, and a unique recipe for chicken à la king…
It was a solid 3-star read for me. Certain aspects were great, but others missed the mark. It might work better for other people, as my critiques of it come more from my personal reaction to things than more objective things like the prose or the story.
What did I enjoy?
The cover, first of all, is definitely in my top ten of the year. It’s fantastic.
I liked how weird the book was, that it wasn’t afraid to take a risk on something quirky and dark. The tone was also very foreboding and grim, which held steady throughout. That’s sometimes hard to do when a book has a lot of dark humour.
As much as I’m not super fond of first person, I liked the stream-of-consciousness aspects and how little things from earlier in the novel came back in amusing ways. The book is clever, and there are some provocative and imaginative metaphors and turns of phrase that I really enjoyed.
I also liked how we’re not sure whether it’s a ghost story or whether the entire thing is a manifestation of Abby's guilt and her husband’s deep deep grief. I do enjoy it when a book plays with “reality” in a way that doesn’t feel deliberate.
There are some moments of comedy that did make me laugh too.
What I wasn’t super into:
The main character shortly grows very annoying. I had no idea how old she was supposed to be, as sometimes she acted like she was barely out of her teens, and at others, she was my age (late 30s). I had no clue what to make of her behaviour at some points.
It’s not scary at all. The ending is a bit bonkers, but it’s nothing I haven’t seen before in horror at least. I’m not sure how Abby made the leap to doing what she did, in truth, but … it definitely didn't go where I expected from the start so that was refreshing and kind of funny in a gross way.
The “bad mother made me nuts” trope is getting to be a bit tired. We see it all the time in novels. There’s a junkie mother or a neglectful mother that we only see one side of, and it makes the grown daughter have severe issues that she doesn’t go to counselling for. Maybe I wasn’t paying enough attention or something, but I must have missed something about what the mother “did” to make her so bad. The thing Abby reveals later seemed to me to be a misconstruing of what the mother said, because there were no hints of that earlier on?
Abby’s obsession with “Cal” was so annoying and her misinformation about fertility drove me absolutely nuts. It got to the point where every time she said “Cal” I felt the muscles in my face just slacken with irritation. Rather than showing her to be obsessive, it almost felt like a mockery of those who deal with infertility. Perhaps it wasn’t intended that way, but I wasn’t sure how else to take it, as Abby was just so ridiculous about the whole thing it was hard to take her seriously.
Likewise, I wasn’t sure whether this book was supposed to be taken a face value (showing an unhinged woman’s downward spiral) or if it was a satire. If the latter, I wasn’t sure what it was supposed to be satirizing.
I’m not trying to say it’s a poorly done novel, because it’s not. I was very into it the first half, and I think the author is talented, but I just wasn’t sure what the novel was trying to say, and I couldn’t stand or comprehend Abby. This might not be the case for everyone, so if you’re intrigued, even by the cover, do check it out!