Related from the points of view of Alex, prospective mother, Karen, and project team member, Dolly, the novel cleverly weaves the ethics of modern medicine and privately-funded research, along with the poignancy of infertility, into a well-paced thriller. The challenges of such a novel are competently handled: the science, both real and fictional, the reader needs to fully appreciate the jeopardy is convincingly conveyed via Dolly’s evidence at a Public Enquiry; the time jumps are signalled through chapter headings, although the writing is so clear they’re hardly needed. In addition, the smaller dramas of the main characters’ lives beyond the in vitro gestation project add interest without ever slowing the pace. With settings of Westminster, Market Harborough, rural Sussex and Newcastle (the latter as in my novel, Sugar and Snails), the story takes us on a journey through contemporary England.
As regular readers know, I’m not a great aficionado of the thriller genre but I was happy to accept this one because of the serious and topical science behind it in the issue of stem cell research (with echoes of Geoff LePard’s second novel, My Father and Other Liars, the subject of his post here in September last year). I’m happy to recommend Rebecca Ann Smith’s debut novel as one of the most engaging thrillers I’ve read recently. Thanks to Mother’s Milk Books, the local-to-me small independent press, for my review copy, an ethical publisher who got into the job by accident, but is now committed to celebrating femininity and empathy with a view to normalising breastfeeding. And, of course, producing books people will want to read.
Scottish writer, Helen MacKinven tells their stories with the wit and humour that characterised her debut, Talk of the Toun, and the familiar theme of the ups and downs of female friendship. It’s an interesting addition to the theme of baby-as-commodity but, for me, it doesn’t quite deliver on the jacket’s promise of “two very different united by the same desire – they desperately want a baby” (italics mine). While Carol missed being a mum and Julia was looking for a man with whom she could start a family, the hole they feel inside doesn’t really take the shape of a baby until Dan comes up with his offer, to be then reinforced by their envy of the pregnancies of significant others, rather in the way that modern consumerism fulfils a need that we didn’t know we had. They then become desperate to get the money Dan demands, and both discover more about themselves in the process.
Thanks to the author and Cranachan Books for my review copy.
Rife with tension, emotion and potential jeopardy, the eleven hours of Lore’s labour provide the perfect backdrop to the stories of these two women and the intense, but time-limited, relationship between them. Beautifully written, this short novel gripped me from the first page, my only gripe that the wider focus at the end, briefly encompassing other points of view, wasn’t necessary. With an endorsement from Elisa Albert, whose angry debut explores the challenges of early motherhood, Pamela Erens has taken a different approach to our underlying vulnerabilities to that addressed in The Virgins.
Although often depicted in film, I don’t think I’ve read another novel that focuses so much on the experience of labour. Yet it affords as much drama as crime, a less frequent real-world event but far more popular fiction genre. I wonder if part of the reticence is that those who’ve experienced it don’t want to revisit the trauma, while those who haven’t wouldn’t dare intrude on territory of which so many potential readers have direct experience. Or perhaps I’ve just missed those stories? Thanks anyway to Atlantic books for my review copy.