MOTHERS AND DAUGHTERS
Author: Kylie Ladd
Allen & Unwin RRP $29.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
The first book I read by Kylie Ladd was Into My Arms, a novel with a controversial relationship at its core. Relationships are also at the heart of Ladd’s latest novel, Mothers and Daughters. As a mother and a daughter, I was instantly drawn by the title and the blurb – books like this always make me think of my own relationships and I like that reminder.
Four mothers and four teenage daughters visit an isolated coastal region in Australia’s north-west – a few hundred kilometres north of Broome. The mothers – Amira, Fiona, Caro and Morag – have been friends for years, connected by their children, and they are looking forward to getting away from it all together. Three of the daughters – Tess, Janey, Bronte (the fourth is Morag’s step-daughter Macy who turns up later in the book) – were once close, but adolescence has changed them a lot. As the realities of the tropical paradise hit home – no internet, no mobile phone coverage, and a remote, hot environment that houses a dry (alcohol-restricted) Indigenous community – tensions increase, drawing out bad behavior, drunken confessions, bitchiness and breakdowns. Before long the mothers are forced to reassess their relationships with not only each other, but with their daughters.
With four teenagers (three boys, one girl) in the house, I know first-hand how difficult it can be to navigate the stormy adolescent years. The last few years have been fraught with anxiety as I constantly reassess how far to protect and how much to let go; it’s not a one-off decision, because all children are different, and the goalposts keep changing. Ladd examines this complicated and ever-changing relationship between mother and child in a way that’s easy to relate to in terms of the issues and the responses. It’s also well-balanced, giving both the parent and child perspectives. Mother-guilt is also part of the picture in Mothers and Daughters – most mothers wonder, when our kids do something wrong, is it our fault? Running parallel to the mother-daughter theme, is the theme of friendship – the teenagers’ friendships are tested by their different boundaries and changing worldviews, while the mothers’ friendships are tested by their children’s behaviors. Can they still be friends even if their children fall out? Again, it’s a common situation found in any schoolyard.
Ladd’s mothers all have their good and bad points and while it’s easy to judge them for some of their parenting choices, I kept coming back to the mantra I tell myself – I am being the best mother I can. And also remembering, that in many cases, we bring with us some, if not all, of what we learn from our own mothers. Case in point is Fiona, who cops a serve from her daughter Bronte for her clinical approach when Bronte’s period starts unexpectedly; never “mollycoddled” as a child, Fiona brings that approach into her own parenting, right or wrong.
Useless. Had she been? But there was no point in mollycoddling, she’d always believed that. The world was a tough place and the sooner you realised that and learned to deal with it the better. Useless, though. Did Bronte really think that? Was Caro a better mother than she was? (p291)
Likewise Caro overcompensates for her husband’s frequent absences by spoiling her daughters … Janey’s atrocious behavior reflects this. But Caro really is trying to do her best. Motherhood is complicated and so is adolescence.
The setting of the book also deserves a mention in so far as it highlights some of the issues faced by remote and Indigenous communities in Australia. Additionally, the remote location served to highlight the sense of remoteness felt by the characters in terms of their relationships – not only with their parent/child.
Thematically, Mothers and Daughters hit the spot. However, the overall emotional impact given those themes was less than I expected. I read but didn’t feel quite what I thought I would feel. Morag was an exception – I could relate to her on a number of levels, such as being a stepmother and feeling caught between two homes (in her case, Edinburgh and Melbourne). The book is a quick read and it’s well-written, but for me, Into My Arms had greater emotional impact.
If you like books that chronicle the ups and downs of mothers and daughters, add this to your reading list. It’s available from good bookstores and Allen & Unwin. My copy was courtesy of Allen & Unwin.
Bookish treat: It’s strawberry season here … one of nature’s best treats.