Why Mummy smokes

It’s 7.02 p.m. and I’m standing outside my house by the bins smoking a fag. Upstairs, I can hear that my six-year-old is awake but I’m choosing to ignore her. How repellent, I hear you murmur. And it is repellent, in many ways. I am a smoker and a mother, hardly the Madonna and child. How can these two realities ever be reconciled? They jam against each other all day long, uncomfortably.  Smoking is bloody great. If you’re a smoker that is. Otherwise it’s just disgusting It’s OK, I tell myself, every single day. I never smoke in front of them. Instead, I smoke when they’re in bed, when the

Murder in the dark: The Eighth House, by Linda Segtnan, reviewed

It takes a Scandinavian mother to write like this: ‘Why murder a nine-year-old girl? She wasn’t raped. Rape is the only motive I know of for the murder of little girls, unless the killer is a close relative.’ Linda Segtnan’s The Eighth House benefits from this bluntness. Its author, a historical researcher based in Stockholm, was browsing through a newspaper archive in 2018 when a photograph of nine-year-old Birgitta Sivander caught her attention. The girl lived in a village called Perstorp in southern Sweden until one evening in May 1948 she went out to the football field and did not return. A search was organised, the human chain making its

British families deserve a tax break

I am delighted to report that some £800,000 of taxpayers’ money is to be spent ‘remediating’ the works of Robert Louis Stevenson to show what a racist bastard he was. 70 per cent of Irish mums say they would stay at home to look after their kids if given the opportunity I assume the decision was taken because, as a nation, we are absolutely awash with cash at the moment and need somewhere to dispense of it. This project, funded by the quango UK Research and Innovation (UKRI), will be carried out at Edinburgh University. I hope that, aside from clobbering Stevenson for having been born during a different time

A mother-daughter love story

In Splinters, the American novelist and essayist Leslie Jamison leaves behind the issue of her addiction and recovery – the subject of her previous memoir, The Recovering (2018) – and takes us through her pregnancy, experience of childbirth, marriage, divorce and post-separation dating life. Each stage of her journey is related with the author’s trademark love of the telling detail: On the postpartum ward my window ledge filled up with snacks from friends: graham crackers, cashews, cheddar cheese, coconut water, oranges with tiny green leaves. Someone hands her a form to fill out. ‘Did I want bone broth?’ We can assume she does, as bone broth appears later on. Much

Refugee lives: The Singularity, by Balsam Karam, reviewed

One Friday evening in a half-ruined, half-rebuilt city, where smart tourists dine out in restaurants next to refugees in makeshift shelters, a woman walks the streets. In torn clothes and slippers ‘worn ragged’, she hands out leaflets. On every piece of paper the same words are written: ‘Has anyone seen my daughter?’ On the same evening, in the same coastal city, which is ‘half obscured by skyscrapers’, another woman walks the streets with a different purpose, seeking to spend time away from her co-workers on a business trip. As she cradles her pregnant stomach, she watches as a female figure climbs over a clifftop railing and jumps, leaving behind a

How to make the most of the third trimester of pregnancy

The final trimester of pregnancy is a strange time. You’ll be told to rest, as if you can somehow bank sleep. The reality is likely to be a dash to buy everything you need, as well as don’t need (a hi-tech ‘nappy bag’ for instance). Once the baby arrives, even trying to get out of the house becomes a mission. With that in mind, here are some helpful ways to focus mind and body during the final few weeks, if you’d rather not spend too much time obsessing over the correct shade for the nursery.  Complete your baby courses The National Childbirth Trust runs the most well-known antenatal courses, but

Parallel lives: Violets, by Alex Hyde, reviewed

When Violet wakes up in Birmingham Women’s Hospital at the start of Alex Hyde’s debut novel her first thought is of what has happened to the enamel pail of blood, because she hates the idea of someone else emptying it: ‘Was that what it meant, lifeblood? Placental, uterine. She had seen the blood drop out of her into the pail. It came with the force of an ending.’ A messy business, miscarriage. Across the country in Wales, another Violet is dealing with a different sort of mess. ‘No, still nothing. Violet pulled up her knickers and swilled out the pan. Every time she would check. Every slight feeling of wet.’

The parent snatchers: The School for Good Mothers, by Jessamine Chan, reviewed

Frida Liu, the 39-year-old mother of a toddler named Harriet, has a very bad day which will haunt her for the length of this novel. She is divorced from Harriet’s father, a middle-aged man called Gust who has left her for a 28-year-old Pilates instructor called Susanna. Harriet will only fall asleep, Frida explains, ‘if I’m holding her hand’. As a consequence, Frida herself has been averaging two hours sleep a night when she finally cracks and decides to leave her daughter unattended so that she can collect some papers from her work place. After her neighbours hear the child crying they call the police and Harriet goes to live

Entirely gripping: The Lost Daughter reviewed

The Lost Daughter is an adaptation of the Elena Ferrante novel about motherhood that says, quite ferociously: it’s complicated. And: mothers aren’t necessarily motherly, and can feel ambivalence. You’d think it was unfilmable, particularly as the central character describes herself as someone even she doesn’t understand but, directed by Maggie Gyllenhaal — it’s her directorial debut — and starring Olivia Colman, this film is entirely gripping. No ambivalence on that count. Colman could play a bedside table and somehow bring depth, feeling, an internal landscape It is carried by Colman who is tremendous, and is being tipped as a potential Oscar winner, if that matters. She is certainly now one

The cure becomes the problem: The Seduction, by Joanna Briscoe, reviewed

Beth, the protagonist of Joanna Briscoe’s The Seduction, reminded me of Clare in Tessa Hadley’s debut, Accidents in the Home. Both are domesticated mavericks with a reluctantly wandering eye: frustrated mothers looking for lovers to mirror their dormant wildness back at them. The fact that Briscoe’s work feels familiar — sharing the same bohemian preoccupations with adultery, motherhood and quirky interiors as other purveyors of the unfairly maligned Hampstead novel — is no bad thing. The author has a fine eye for aesthetic detail and an even finer one for parental relationships. The star of the show is not actually Beth’s love life, but her heart-breaking attempts to revive her