When moth­er­hood goes wrong

The Herald - Arts - - PAPERBACK - Ajay Close Sand­stone Press, £8.99 Re­view by Alas­tair Mab­bott

THIS is a tale of two preg­nan­cies, and one which takes a very hard look at moth­er­hood and mar­riage. Freya, who is 43, and her sports pre­sen­ter hus­band Frankie are child­less, and have de­cided, af­ter nine years of mar­riage, to try to start a fam­ily. Their at­tempts so far have achieved noth­ing but an in­crease in the ten­sion be­tween them, so the cou­ple sign up for ex­pen­sive IVF treat­ment at a fer­til­ity clinic in Perthshire. The course re­quires Freya to live within easy reach of the clinic for its du­ra­tion. At the sug­ges­tion of Kit, a man 20 years her ju­nior whose part­ner is also at­tend­ing the clinic, Freya finds ac­com­mo­da­tion on his mother’s farm. Kit is a fre­quent vis­i­tor, and the two of them find a bond form­ing be­tween them which threat­ens to desta­bilise her mar­riage even fur­ther.

Though she’s un­aware of it, Freya’s sit­u­a­tion has un­canny par­al­lels with, and mean­ing­ful dif­fer­ences from, the ex­pe­ri­ence of her mother back in the early 1970s. Her mother, age­ing actress Lil­ias, keeps her cards close to her chest where her daugh­ter is con­cerned. She has never re­vealed to Freya the iden­tity of her fa­ther, even con­coct­ing a fic­tional ver­sion of her daugh­ter’s ori­gins to throw her off the scent. The cen­tral re­la­tion­ship in this novel about moth­er­hood is badly askew. When­ever they’re to­gether, the mood dark­ens as if in an­tic­i­pa­tion of a thun­der­storm, and their con­ver­sa­tions are wary, com­bat­ive and un­der­scored by re­sent­ment on both sides.

Lil­ias is an actress of the old school: flam­boy­ant, ex­ag­ger­at­ing her ca­reer in reper­tory the­atre to make it sound a lot more im­pres­sive than it ac­tu­ally was, and cer­tainly not a wo­man who would stoop so low as to have a re­la­tion­ship with a farm­hand. Close por­trays Lil­ias bril­liantly, par­tic­u­larly in the way she ex­ploits her knowl­edge of stage­craft to ma­nip­u­late peo­ple, to both at­tract and de­flect at­ten­tion and to ag­gran­dise her­self while be­lit­tling her daugh­ter. As her back­story un­folds in tan­dem with Freya’s, we see she wasn’t al­ways so im­pe­ri­ous and sure of her­self.

Freya re­sents the lack of at­ten­tion she re­ceived as a child, the fact that she was con­tin­u­ally shunted off to stay with a fam­ily friend and above all the with­hold­ing of her fa­ther’s iden­tity. It’s easy to sym­pa­thise with Freya, but it would be eas­ier still if she weren’t act­ing so im­pul­sively and se­cre­tively her­self. She and her hus­band are driven even fur­ther apart as her at­tempts to con­ceive bring a life­time of is­sues to the sur­face.

Close’s han­dling of her themes is ex­cep­tional. Al­though sep­a­rated by 40 years, both Lil­ias’ and Freya’s preg­nan­cies are times when they are re­moved from their for­mer lives and placed in an un­sen­ti­men­tal ru­ral en­vi­ron­ment where life is shaped by the pri­mal rhythms of an­i­mals’ re­pro­duc­tive cy­cles. It’s an ap­pro­pri­ately vis­ceral set­ting for a sen­sual novel which delves deep into the com­plex and dan­ger­ous re­la­tion­ship be­tween moth­ers and daugh­ters, in which ten­der­ness and tox­i­c­ity are laced to­gether in an eter­nal braid.

Ajay Close delves into the com­plex re­la­tion­ship be­tween moth­ers and daugh­ters, in which ten­der­ness and tox­i­c­ity are laced to­gether in an eter­nal braid

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