Claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei

As it’s the Mother’s Day week­end, I want to note new books about moth­ers and their chil­dren. Two provoca­tive ones are re­viewed on page 20. First, though, a per­sonal thanks to my mother for putting me on the path to the chair I’m sit­ting in to­day. OK, it’s not the world’s most com­fort­able seat, hardly a green leather club chair, but the point is that she, a life­long reader, was the one who en­cour­aged me to ex­plore the vast, cu­ri­ous world of books.

ABC tele­vi­sion reporter Sarah Ferguson has writ­ten a sad, sweet trib­ute to her mother, Mar­jorie, in On Mother (MUP, 82pp, $14.99). This is the lat­est ad­di­tion to MUP’s ex­cel­lent se­ries of lit­tle books on big ideas. You will re­mem­ber I wrote about Nikki Gem­mell’s On Quiet a few weeks ago.

Ferguson has wit­nessed some hu­man catas­tro­phes in her ca­reer as a for­eign cor­re­spon­dent: the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, then, later, near the Syr­ian bor­der she met an asy­lum-seeker who lost eight chil­dren when the ship they were in broke up. It is heart­break­ing.

This book, though, is per­sonal. It is about the death of her mother. It raises ques­tions about how she died and whether she should have been saved. It con­cludes with the coro­nial in­quest into her death. “Who am I to write about loss,” Ferguson asks when she con­sid­ers that asy­lum-seeker, “when mine is so small, so or­di­nary?” Af­ter a pause on the page, she con­tin­ues: “I have come to un­der­stand that the com­par­i­son has no mean­ing and to stop apol­o­gis­ing for my sad­ness. A mother’s love is so ex­quis­ite as to be be­yond com­par­i­son.”

Ferguson was not there when her mother died. She fell at home, where she lived alone. An am­bu­lance took her to hos­pi­tal. She died there, amid “peo­ple who did not know her”.

“All we know was she fell in the daylight and woke in the dark, on the floor, un­able to move.” Sarah and her brother An­thony, who had been with their fa­ther when he died, were not able to do the same for their mother. “No one held her hand or kissed her fore­head, told her it was time to go. It wasn’t time nor was it gen­tle. It was rough and me­chan­i­cal and she was alone.”

When she goes to her mother’s house, she sees “the wrong things ... a pair of leather slip­pers be­neath a stool, a cal­en­dar with to­day’s date and an ap­point­ment, two news­pa­pers in their plas­tic wrap”. There is a lot of sad­ness, grief and re­gret in this beau­ti­ful lit­tle book, but all of it is due to a love that can­not be equalled.

There are also hap­pier mo­ments, where Ferguson re­mem­bers her mother and con­sid­ers, with the help of pho­tos, her mother’s life be­fore she had chil­dren. “I lost some­thing true, not per­fect, even odd at times, but the surest thing on earth that I have known.” In The Moth­er­hood (Vik­ing, 275pp, $34.95), Aus­tralian writ­ers pen a let­ter to their post­na­tal selves. It is sad at times, hi­lar­i­ous at others. It is not a book for the squea­mish. Cle­men­tine Ford looks back to “that cold win­ter’s af­ter­noon when my vagina tore apart and I pooped out a baby. Did I say out? I meant on. I pooped on a baby — be­cause the twin tun­nels tend to con­verge as one when a boul­der smashes through them.” Ford goes on to of­fer home­spun advice to all moth­ers-to-be. Karen Pick­er­ing re­minds her past self of an ab­so­lute truth: “You’re in love. More pow­er­fully and hope­lessly in love than you ever could have pre­dicted. He’s prob­a­bly in your arms right now and you can scarcely breathe for how per­fect he is.” How­ever, the quote of the week goes to jour­nal­ist Lanai Scarr: “Holy crap, they’re here. Shit. Wow. F.....kkkkk!!!!!! Is this real? Can you be­lieve it? You did it. You just gave birth to three ba­bies at once. Triplets.”

Now, I’m not a doc­tor, or a woman, but I doubt the three came out si­mul­ta­ne­ously. But moth­ers should be for­given, es­pe­cially when they haven’t slept prop­erly for months, as just about ev­ery con­trib­u­tor to this book points out.

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