Are You My Mother? In This Novel, the Answer Is Complicated.

Welcome to Group Text, a month-to-month column for readers and ebook golf equipment about the novels, memoirs and short-story collections that make you wish to speak, ask questions and dwell in one other world for a bit bit longer.


In the 1960s, an unwed pregnant girl lands in the care of Irish nuns. The results of their merciless selections shake a household tree from its roots to distant branches.

Esther Freud’s characters are sure by loss however not outlined by it. Each one has a full life, the better of intentions and guts. Who doesn’t wish to examine girls like that?

If I needed to summarize I COULDN’T LOVE YOU MORE (Ecco, 370 pp., paper, $14.49) on a bit of paper sufficiently small to slide inside a fortune cookie, I’d borrow this line from the finish of the ebook: “These weren’t stories people wanted told.”

Kudos to Esther Freud for shouting them from the rooftops — or at the very least a sturdy backbone.

Freud’s ninth novel braids the tough lives of three decided girls, listed right here in the order of how a lot I cared about them (least to best): Aoife (pronounced “Eefa”), who’s wanting again on her marriage and household life with the benefit of generally painful hindsight; her daughter, Rosaleen, who bolts from her strict Irish Catholic girlhood and has an affair with a dashing sculptor solely to wind up pregnant, in the care of sadistic nuns; and Kate, an artist, mom and spouse dwelling in London, whose husband’s alcoholism spurs her to hint her beginning mom to a convent in Ireland.

Before I inform you extra, let’s pause for a fast historical past lesson: In Ireland, from the 18th century till as just lately as 1996, younger girls who had been deemed “problematic” — as in pregnant, promiscuous or just mouthy — might be indentured to church-run establishments, often called Magdalene Laundries, the place they had been abused, mistreated and overworked (generally to demise). Once you entered one in every of these hellholes, it was onerous to get out; somebody needed to fork over a hefty price otherwise you’d need to work off your “debt” for years. If you had a child, that baby could be adopted by strangers, usually after you had been caring for her into her toddler years.

This is what occurs to Rosaleen. After dropping her job, with choices dwindling and her household in the darkish about her circumstances, she finds her strategy to the Convent of the Sacred Heart, the place she is instructed to select a brand new identify: “You won’t want to be using the one you were baptized with,” says the Reverend Mother. For months, “Patricia” scrubs flooring and home windows and trims grass with a pair of scissors, sometimes turning her eyes to the sky and questioning “if it could be the same sun that illuminated the world she’d left behind.” Eventually she endures an extended unmedicated and unassisted labor perched on the fringe of a bedpan. The nuns pressured their prices into this place and “would slap you if you made a sound.”

Aoife has no thought the place her daughter disappeared to; years later, when she strikes from the household farm, she leaves her new deal with with the subsequent proprietor in case Rosaleen comes residence. Kate solely is aware of the sketchiest particulars about her personal provenance, however manages to comply with her roots again to the garden — now a graveyard — that Rosaleen tended on her arms and knees. Still, significant solutions are onerous to come back by for each girls, particularly Kate. Does Freud arrange too many obstacles for her? Some readers may suppose so. Personally, I beloved watching Kate take a working leap, touchdown the place I least anticipated to seek out her, along with her ft planted firmly on the floor.

“I Couldn’t Love You More” doesn’t finish with a joyous reunion, a field of beloved household recipes or a pale snapshot Kate will body on her mantel. Freud exhibits how a path goes chilly, how paths diverge. Isn’t this what occurs when secrecy trumps widespread sense? But she additionally demonstrates the energy of ladies forging forward, constructing households they select, sometimes shifting in the similar path as household they’ve been denied.

These tales must be instructed, listened to and remembered.

Discussion Questions

Were you accustomed to the Irish mom and child properties earlier than studying “I Couldn’t Love You More” — and, if not, had been you shocked by the situations Rosaleen encountered in Blackrock?

How has the dialog round unplanned being pregnant modified since the 1960s? How has it remained the similar?

Which girl did you care about the most?

Did you’ve got any bother maintaining observe of shifting views? Would you’ve got most well-liked a chronological strategy?

Suggested Reading

“Philomena: A Mother, Her Son and a 50-Year Search,” by Martin Sixsmith. Maybe you noticed the film starring Dame Judi Dench; the soundtrack alone can convey me to tears. But the ebook it’s based mostly on delves deeper and extra meaningfully into the lifetime of Michael Hess, who was wrenched from his Irish mom as a toddler and adopted by an American household. He by no means stopped in search of her, nor she for him.

“The Handmaid’s Tale,” by Margaret Atwood. The Aunts in Atwood’s basic remind me of the nuns at Freud’s convent. Luckily, “The Handmaid’s Tale” and “I Couldn’t Love You More” are each infused with a way of sisterhood that makes their ugliness bearable. “We still had our bodies. That was our fantasy,” Atwood writes. “In the semidarkness we could stretch out our arms, when the Aunts weren’t looking, and touch each other’s hands across space.”