Historian Anna Bennett has a book to write. She also has an insomniac toddler, a precocious, death-obsessed seven-year-old, and a frequently absent ecologist husband who has brought them all to Colsay, a desolate island in the Hebrides, so he can count the puffins.
Ferociously sleep-deprived, torn between mothering and her desire for the pleasures of work and solitude, Anna becomes haunted by the discovery of a baby's skeleton in the garden of their house.
Her narrative is punctuated by letters home, written 200 years before, by May, a young, middle-class midwife desperately trying to introduce modern medicine to the suspicious, insular islanders.
The lives of these two characters intersect unexpectedly in this deeply moving but also at times blackly funny story about maternal ambivalence, the way we try to control children, and about women's vexed and passionate relationship with work.
Moss's second novel displays an exciting expansion of her range - showing her to be both an excellent comic writer and a novelist of great emotional depth.
- Format: Paperback
- Pages: 416 pages
- Publisher: Granta Books
- Publication Date: 05/04/2012
- Category: Modern & contemporary fiction (post c 1945)
- ISBN: 9781847082701
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Review by imyril
A perfectly pitched exploration of the challenges of motherhood for the reluctant mother, this brilliant novel engaged me from the start. Sardonic, hilarious and moving, the story follows Anna's frustrations with her faltering career, the dismantling of her relationship with her absent husband Giles (spending more time with puffins than with his family), and her failure to cope with her 2 young sons. Genuinely funny, often moving, this little gem is not going to persuade reluctant mothers to dive in any time soon, but it is a delight to read with a brilliant cast of supporting characters and an entertaining subplot to solve the mystery of the dead body the family dig up in the back garden. This could easily be the big British movie of a future summer.