Verdict: A family saga of adversity and heartache, Richmond’s novel recalls a mother’s rough and tumble life without smoothing the edges.
A middle-aged British woman reflects back on her tumultuous, dysfunctional life and its many hardships and regrets.
Nearing fifty in 2012 in Stamford, Lincolnshire, nurse and teacher Helen Richards recalls her life’s many hardships and mistakes. Perhaps the most significant is marriage to her physically and psychologically abusive husband “Knob.” During their union, she engages in passive aggressive ways of punishing him. The tale describes other failed romances and a history of partying and casual sex, despite her Catholic upbringing. From her marriage, Helen is left with several children, who develop their own troubled lives and harbor resentment and misunderstanding. Helen feels much guilt for the things she’s done, especially with regard to one very dark lapse of responsibility. To assuage her conscience, she does volunteer work at orphanages in Romania, where many severely disabled Roma children are housed.
Helen’s life story is frequently tragic, but also rarely humorous. It’s told with gritty realism, often describing bodily functions and physical abuse with unfiltered foulness. As a result, characterization is wholly realistic—there’s no idealizing of people here, even when it comes to her children.
The novel’s narrative arc is loose and is told almost completely in exposition. Reading the novel feels more like reading a long personal essay or diary. There is almost no dialogue and physical description is very basic, sometimes unnecessary and sometimes not enough. There are also formatting issues. What detracts most from the story, though, is the undirected stream-of-consciousness, which often relates vapid, insignificant thoughts or makes sudden, random shifts in memory, taking away somewhat from the rich plot with its colorful misadventures and misfortunes.
A family saga of adversity and heartache, Richmond’s novel recalls a mother’s rough and tumble life without smoothing the edges.