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Motherhood • With Claire Lynch • #116

It’s Mother’s Day here in the UK and as there’s nothing Kate loves more than a special episode we’ve put together a show on the theme of motherhood. We’re joined by Claire Lynch, author of Small: On Motherhoods, her literary memoir of her own unusual journey into motherhood. Elizabeth Morris of Crib Notes book club joins us too – who better to help us pull together our essential reads on the topic. We’ve got laughter, we might shed a few tears, and brilliant books on the theme of motherhood to cover all eventualities.

Listen to our motherhood episode via the media player above or your own favourite podcast app with this link.

Follow Claire on Twitter @drclairelynch, and find Elizabeth @Elizabethmoya. You can sign up for Elizabeth’s monthly newsletter Crib Notes here.

Motherhood book recommendations

In addition to Small we talked about

Nighbitch by Rachel YoderNightbitch by Rachel Yoder (Harvill Secker) ‘At home full-time with her two-year-old son, an artist finds she is struggling. She is lonely and exhausted. She had imagined – what was it she had imagined? Her husband, always travelling for his work, calls her from faraway hotel rooms. One more toddler bedtime, and she fears she might lose her mind. Instead, quite suddenly, she starts gaining things, surprising things that happen one night when her child will not sleep. Sharper canines. Strange new patches of hair. New appetites, new instincts. And from deep within herself, a new voice…’ Listen in to hear Elizabeth and Kate enthuse about this clever, subversive, funny and disturbing take on contemporary motherhood. Would be a great book club read.

Motherhood Sheila HetiMotherhood by Sheila Heti (Penguin) Claire Lynch recommended this as a thoughtful look at motherhood from the perspective of someone who is trying to decide whether or not to have a child. ‘Having reached an age when most of her peers are asking themselves when they will become mothers, Heti’s narrator considers, with the same urgency, whether she will do so at all. Over the course of several years, under the influence of her partner, body, family, friends, mysticism and chance, she struggles to make a moral and meaningful choice.’ Written in a fragmentary way, dipping in and out of Heti’s conversations with herself and real-life experiences, we loved this book that considers the nature of art and whether a childless life can still be a significant one. Claire suggest’s it’s this generation’s answer to Rachel Cusk (see more on A Life’s Work, below).

A life's work by Rachel Cusk A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk (Faber & Faber)  ‘Rachel Cusk’s funny, moving, brutally honest account of her early experiences of motherhood. An education in babies, books, breast-feeding, toddler groups, broken nights, bad advice and never being alone, it is a landmark work, which has provoked acclaim and outrage in equal measure.’ Laura flagged this one up as an essential read for anyone struggling with the public / private nature of our culture around motherhood, as Cusk writes ‘the childcare manuals and the toddler groups, the discourse of domestic life, even the politics of birth itself. In motherhood the communal was permitted to prevail over the individual, and the result, to my mind, was a great deal of dishonesty.’ And so Cusk’s honest account of her struggles and feelings of frustration during the early years of motherhood as she struggled to carve out time and space to write. You can read the introduction to a later edition of the book, in which Cusk muses on the response to it, here. An essential book, we reckon, and great for discussion.

A Ghost in the Throat Doireann ní GhríofaA Ghost in the Throat by Doireann ní Ghríofa (Tramp Press) ‘In the 1700s, an Irish noblewoman, on discovering her husband has been murdered, drinks handfuls of his blood and composes an extraordinary poem that reaches across the centuries to another poet. In the present day, a young mother narrowly avoids tragedy in her own life. On encountering the poem, she becomes obsessed with finding out the rest of the story.’ This was one of Kate’s top-three books she read in 2021, a beautifully written and unexpected book about the everyday details of motherhood and domesticity viewed through a creative lens. Doireann ní Ghríofa is a poet, and the book is written in beautiful, luminous sentences that elevate simple acts such as hanging out laundry to something profound. Meanwhile her quest to rediscover the life of a forgotten female poet from the 18th century is fascinating, and taps by extension into all the women who have been erased by the patriarchal bias with which their contributions to life are recorded, if they are recorded at all. A gem.

(M)otherhood by Praya AgarwalM(otherhood) by Praya Agarwal (Canongate) ‘Extremely open in its honesty and meticulously researched, (M)otherhoodprobes themes of infertility, childbirth and reproductive justice, and makes a powerful and urgent argument for the need to tackle society’s obsession with women’s bodies and fertility.’ Recommended by Elizabeth Morris who read (M)otherhood in bite-sized chunks shortly after the birth of her second child. She describes it as academic enough that you have to pay attention, but a riveting and essential read.



The Best Most Awful Job Katherine MayThe Best Most Awful Job by Katherine May (Elliott & Thompson) A book which ‘brings together twenty bold and brilliant women to speak about motherhood in all its raw, heart-wrenching, gloriously impossible forms. Overturning assumptions, breaking down myths and shattering stereotypes, these writers challenge our perceptions of what it means to be a mother – and ask you to listen.’ This was Claire’s recommendation for it’s multi-varied perspectives on different aspects of motherhood. And having been field-tested by Claire, we can confirm it’s perfect to read when pushing a pram around a back-garden.


The Lost Daughter by Elena FerranteThe Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante (Europa Editions) Kate picked this short, enjoyably haunting novel about a woman taking a break from her job as an academic to spend time by the sea. Lonely, she becomes interested in a family who visit the beach every day, and when she finds the doll their daughter has been playing with on the beach, she quietly takes it for her own. Meanwhile she relives her memories of her days as a young mother, and how she was driven to leave her husband and daughters, only to go back, three years later. As with all of Ferrante’s work the simple story allows her to explore rich seams and all the complicated nuance of a mother’s relationship with her children, and a woman’s relationship with herself. Recently made into an excellent film starring Olivia Coleman.


 The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield-FisherThe Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield-Fisher (Persephone) We meet Evangeline, an obsessively house-proud mother to three children, whose husband Lester goes off to work each day as a book-keeper at the town’s department store. Meanwhile Evangeline spends her days cleaning, cooking and on rare occasions meeting up with other women in the local sewing-bee. Both Evangeline and Lester are unhappy and frustrated with the way they feel they must spend their days, and the children sense their parents misery. And then Lester has an accident which means he is unable to go out to work. Now it is Evangeline who becomes the bread-winner, while Lester stays at home to look after the children and manage the house. Free at last of a job he hated Lester is delighted to spend time at home looking after his children, while Evangeline, who always had a flair for design, thrives as a saleswoman. Wouldn’t it be better, Canfield-Fisher suggests, if families were able to decide amongst themselves who should do what without society forcing people into roles that don’t suit them. It was radical in 1924 when the book was written, it’s testament to how entrenched these domestic roles are that it is still a relevant question today. An enjoyable and thought-provoking read that would be a great pick for book club.

Life Among the Savages by Shirley JacksonLife Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson (Penguin) ‘As well as being a master of the macabre, Shirley Jackson was also a pitch-perfect chronicler of everyday family life. In Life Among the Savages, her caustically funny account of raising her children in a ramshackle house in Vermont, she deals with rats in the cellar, misbehaving imaginary friends, an oblivious husband and ever-encroaching domestic chaos, all described with wit, warmth and plenty of bite.’ Kate loved this darkly funny memoir and found much to relate to. ‘Jackson’s family chronicles have a genuinely subversive aspect … Read today, her pieces feel surprisingly modern – mainly because she refuses to sentimentalize or idealize motherhood’ The New York Times Book Review

We also mentioned No-One Talks About this Stuff by Kat Brown.


If you enjoyed this show don’t miss our conversation with Elizabeth Morris in episode 64, when she first came on the pod to talk to us about setting up Crib Notes, with a stack of brilliant book recommendations, too, of course.

Have a book on motherhood that you have loved? We’d love to hear your motherhood reading recommendations. Let us know in the comments.

Motherhood transcript

If you want to listen to this show as well as read along (or scroll to a particular bit), you can do so here.


Kate 0:09
Hello, and welcome to the Book Club Review. I’m Kate.

Laura 0:12
I’m Laura.

Kate 0:13
And this is the podcast about book clubs and the books that get you talking.

Laura 0:18
‘How any woman with a family ever put pen to paper I cannot fathom,’ Virginia Woolf once wrote, ‘always the bell rings and the baker calls.’ Today in honour of Mother’s Day, we’re joined by two special guests, who proved Woolf very wrong. Both have managed to more than put pen to paper while raising small children.

Kate 0:38
We’re joined by Claire Lynch, mother of three and author of Small, her literary memoir on queer motherhood that has delighted readers such as Bernadine Evaristo, who called it ‘Original, important, moving, witty and exquisitely written.’ Alongside her, we’re delighted to welcome back to the shed Elizabeth Morris, former books publicist and literary events manager, now busy raising two small children, and writing Crib Notes, her newsletter packed full of book recommendations with mothers in mind.

Laura 1:04
In addition to Claire’s book, we’ve each picked two favourites to discuss, so listen in for more on the books we love, the books we’ve found helpful, the books that make us laugh, cry and everything in between.

Kate 1:15
All that coming up here on The Book Club Review.

Claire, it’s so lovely to have you joining us. And this episode is scheduled to go out on Mother’s Day here in the UK. I feel like you have written a whole book about it, and we’ll come on to that, but for now short and sweet, what does Mother’s Day mean to you?

Claire Lynch 1:36
Oh, blimey [laughs] To me, it mostly means a lesson in the possessive apostrophe. And, you know, quite a lot of showing off about the number of Mother’s Day cards we get brought home from school and nursery. I mean, I hope for all of us it means just a moment of pause and self-recognition of survival. Maybe that’s the best way to think of Mother’s Day for us. And I think for me, at least, a little bit of gratitude to my own mum that I think maybe you slide by maybe when you’re the maker of the cards. So yeah, that’s what I’ll be doing this Mother’s Day is making my own mum lunch, I think and feeling very grateful in a newfound way.

Kate 2:11
Sounds good. Elizabeth, how about you?

Elizabeth Morris 2:13
I definitely think that same feeling of gratitude towards my own mum. And I think that when I became a mother, that was the first time I really got it, I understood everything my mum had done and how much she loved us. So yeah, I’m hoping to celebrate my mum, but I’m also very selfishly still, I think this will be my fourth Mother’s Day. So I’m really hoping that my husband and sons pull it out of the bag,

Kate 2:35
Laura, any hopes, expectations?

Laura 2:38
Okay, you know me, and maybe listeners know me a little bit. So I have no hopes or expectations [laughs]. That sounds a bit bleak, but it’s very pragmatic and so you know, Mother’s Day, hmn, Valentine’s Day, hmn. What I should say is that Mother’s Day in Canada isn’t until May. So it’s not even my mother’s day yet. But where I do get a bit weepy eyed, is when Claire and Elizabeth talk about their own mothers and Claire, you bring this up in your book. And it’s exactly the same thing that as soon as you have any experience of those early months of motherhood, you realise everything your own mother did for you, and therefore I will be celebrating her, come May.

Kate 3:16
As for me, my main thought when I realised it was coming up as a sort of tiny inward sigh of thinking, ‘Oh, do I have to organise something?’ These celebrations, these festivities, like Easter coming up, you know? Great, Easter! But then a part of me is thinking ‘I’m gonna have to source Easter eggs, I’m going to have to organise some kind of treasure hunt, I’m going to have to arrange like where are we going to be and when, you know, or my daughter’s birthday, which is coming up this weekend – pizza party, presents, party bags, cake – it’s all happening. I feel one of the main characteristics of motherhood is that you have to become an organiser and Claire, to go back to you, you and your partner Beth, were never going to have a baby by accident, you had to really think it through and decide and plan and organise. So I wonder if you could just tell us a bit about your story. And what led you to write this book?

Claire Lynch 4:02
Sure. Yeah, I mean, there was planning involved, that’s certainly true. I think that’s a sort of expectation that same sex couples have that the route to parenthood is, you know, less likely to be accidental. So we conceived our children through what’s called reciprocal IVF, which means that my eggs were used for her pregnancy. So we were both biologically involved in the making of the children if you like. And that was quite important to us in terms of feeling that shared sense of parenthood, I guess, from the very beginning. And those processes are never very straightforward, I suppose. And that’s one of the things I wrote about in the book.

How I came to write it is, to me even a little bit of a mystery, because mostly I was writing it when the children were very small, in fact, probably started when we had twins, first of all, who were born quite a bit prematurely and I started writing it when we were in hospital with them when they were born. And I think it was probably a job of just making sense of the experience. First off, you know, to make a narrative of something that is very difficult to understand when you’re living through it even, so it started like that. And then I increasingly realised, you know, how many stories of motherhood there are. But still, those essential narratives are the ones that we often hear. So I guess what I’m excited for us to talk about tonight is we’ve all chosen quite a variety of stories. And I suppose my interest was just adding another one to that list. Really, maybe kind of seeing motherhood from a different place that in my experience is not one of pregnancy and childbirth, is a motherhood. This is from a different perspective, I guess.

Kate 5:29
I’d love you to read a little bit from the book. I actually picked out a passage from a little later on, because I love the way that you capture something about time here.

Claire Lynch 5:36
Sure. So I’m going to read this section from a chapter called change. And one of the things that I suppose is important to say about my journey to motherhood – our journey to motherhood – is that there was a change of our plan along the way, and this, I suppose, captures some of that.

‘Three years in and I’m still knocked off balance by the intensity of this love, by the restless energy by the magic of their conversations. With each new iteration I admire the people they are becoming and miss the people they have been. Each milestone of childhood, each gain is also a parting from the previous version. I had not expected to learn so much about dinosaurs, or that shoe laces might be sea snakes and milk bottle tops are really biscuits for dolls. I’ve hardly noticed the thing about the world until now. At three and a half the past suddenly exists to them. Their own beginning their favourite story. ‘I was in mummy’s tummy.’ ‘And I was a mama’s’ they like to say, fighting for some independent ground. I make the correction. A small edit. ‘Not quite’ I say ‘you were both in mummy’s tummy together before you were born. But you started in my tummy before you were babies. When you were just tiny eggs.’ ‘How tiny were we?’ A favourite game. The list more extravagant each time. ‘As small as an ant?’ ‘As small as a crumb? ‘As small as a Borrower’s shoe?’ ‘Smaller,’ I say, ‘Smaller than all of those.’ ‘I remember,’ she says, ‘we were super small then weren’t we.’ They bring it up from time to time over breakfast cereal or driving home from the shops. The fairytale they star in, heroes of their own creation. Each time a few more questions. points of clarification. Each time they ask I tell it again, an origin story of purpose and precision. ‘We wanted you.’ ‘We made you.’ A small dishonesty or maybe something just right, a story abridged and edited for children. ‘Were you lonely without us?’ they ask. ‘Did you miss us before we were born?’

I don’t tell them about the conversation that changed at all five six years ago. We went to the sea to talk about it. Some discussions are too big to have at your kitchen table. A weekend away from work, from real life. A memory I play back on a loop. Beth and I are walking away from the hotel until England runs out, country lanes becoming salt marshes and wide sky. A place empty enough first to finally say the things we had been swirling with for years. We sit in the sand dunes and drink takeaway coffee, listing our options out loud. The pros and cons of changing our plans, or giving up or letting go. A shift, a turning point. All the things that might or might not be if Beth becomes a birth mother of our children instead. And maybe you could say it’s no big deal. Luck not tragedy and unfair advantage even, to have two wombs to try. When we discuss this change of roles with the counsellor, just a possibility, a Plan B, she had warned us against it. Other couples she had worked with had fallen for this temptation. Think of all the jealousy she had said, the resentment. How could you bear it? The pregnancy you had dreamed of for so long, right there in your house, in your bed, but not in your body. When the coffee is finished, I use the cup to scoop up sand, but it’s too dry to build castles. I pour out little mounds, dunes on dunes. I remember from biology class that a cup can hold two million grains of sand. A girl is born with one million eggs. And if we don’t change our plans, if I keep trying to get pregnant, she is frightened it will kill me. I am frightened she will leave. If we do? She is worried it’ll break my heart or send me mad. I am worried she is right.

Kate 9:29
You wrote about that very movingly in your book, how you came to the decision that she would be the one to carry the baby because you had tried and things hadn’t gone well. And so, as you said, you end up using sperm from a donor and then your eggs and then your partner carried the baby. I got the sense at that point that you had felt that if you hadn’t actually gone through the act of being pregnant and giving birth that you somehow wouldn’t be a mother. And then Beth gives birth to babies prematurely, twin girls. Was there a particular moment for you that you first felt to be a mother?

Claire Lynch 10:01
I think that conversation that I recounted in the piece I read was an important conversation because it was a rethinking about what motherhood is, and when it begins, and I think it probably began with that conversation in a way and in that decision, because I think it was a moment for both of us in which we saw that the biology of it wasn’t the only thing. That that wasn’t the thing that made a mother. And I hope that’s something that the book allows people to see, different routes to motherhood, for all sorts of reasons for the creation of all sorts of families. I think in one sense, that ability to look beyond what I imagined motherhood would be is a beginning, but also – and you know, perhaps the books we’re looking at prove this point too – that there’s constant realisations of motherhood, over and over again, that you think you know something, and then the next stage brings a new challenge, and with that a new realisation of what’s involved. The shock of that early motherhood is a very different thing to the realisation that you have no idea how to answer the questions of a six year old. So all of those things are new versions of becoming a mother for the first time, in a sense, because each time the child changes and your job evolves, not just a kind of one beginning,

Kate 11:11
You can’t see but Elizabeth and I were both just sitting here nodding throughout that [laughter]

Elizabeth Morris 11:15
I really love the way that you talk about the everyday of motherhood. You said that of course, you’re talking about how motherhood is more than just the pregnancy and birth but everything that comes afterwards – you talk about the intimacy in the mundane, the wheeling a baby round in a pram, going to baby sensory, there’s bit where you talk about earwax that I found breathtakingly moving – the caring for a small child’s body. Because those are the bits that go unsung in motherhood really. I think that when they’re at home, when they’re doing the daily graft of mothering, mothers are considered to be insignificant. And so the fact that you gave that the poetry and talked about the joy that you find in that boredom. As someone who’s given up my actual day job to become a sort of literary-stay-at-home-mum hybrid that really, really spoke to me on such a deep level.

Laura 12:05
I loved the moments of humour that bubble up. You talk about how a woman with a pram is a pillar of virtue in the community. And at the same time there’s an invisibility there, you are just a mum with a pram, you’re not an individual. Kate has a story about shoplifting from Waitrose when she had a small baby in a pram, by mistake.

Kate 12:12
[Laughs] You can get away with anything. No one looks at you!

Elizabeth Morris 12:27
I’ve done that too!

Kate 12:28
No one will question you. I did it by mistake. But then afterwards, I was like, ‘Oh, wow, you could totally get away with this any time.’

Laura 12:37
And also you tell some stories about the health visitor and this is more black comedy, but as soon as you say the words ‘health visitor’, I’m like, ‘Oh, no, don’t let them come near you!’ They just seem to exist to make new mothers cry and feel inadequate.

Elizabeth Morris 12:52
Strongly relate.

Kate 12:53
There’s a real emotional range to this book. And there are some very difficult moments and there are some very dark moments and there are moments where as a reader, you just have your heart in your mouth because you don’t know how things are going to turn out. But then there are also these wonderful little observations that really made me laugh. I love the bit about –  you wrote: ‘At some stage presumably in the 1970s, it was agreed that ante-natal matters would best be demonstrated through the medium of knitting. And so Paula shows us an impressive collection of knitted breasts, placentas, umbilical cords and various other reproductive organ tea-cosies. In the second week of the course, she produces a tableau of little plastic doctors and nurses to indicate how many people might be in attendance at the hospital birth. Her most compelling visual aids however, are the laminated pictures of infant skin ailments, many of which it transpires are case-studies drawn from her own offspring. Paula asks us to gather around the table on which she has spread images of severe baby acne, some raw, flaky eczema, swollen baby scrotums and the crusty mouth-sores of impetigo. We are all surprised to learn that we are about to partake in a game. ‘You have to read the description of symptoms on these’ Paula explains, gleefully handing out more laminated cards. ‘Now you have to match them to the pictures.’ [laughter]

Claire Lynch 14:02
I mean, I think we learned a lot in those classes, not necessarily the thing she was trying to teach us valuable life lessons all the same.

Kate 14:09
And I can remember when I was struggling with breastfeeding with our first child a lovely lady, such a kind, blessed woman who I remember fondly to this day, but she came around to our house – just from some local voluntary organisation, you suddenly learn about these people you never knew, these roles that you never knew existed. Anyway, she came in with a knitted boob to show me.

Claire Lynch 14:29
[laughing] Well how else were you going to learn about boobs? That’s the thing.

Kate 14:32
Exactly. And the little details. Another thing you mentioned which struck me was you mentioned about sorting out tongue tie and that involves actually snipping that little bit of the tongue so that the baby can feed properly and so you go to a drop-in clinic, don’t you, where the nurse does this for you and then she hands you the scissors [Kate quotes from the book] ‘These are your scissors, now’ she says, ‘you can do whatever you want to with them’ as if perhaps I will find them useful for craft projects. Or in case I’m inspired to set up my own franchise snipping babies’ tongues, I take the scissors and pay her.’ – But that made me laugh so much, because I have the scissors that were used to cut my daughter’s umbilical cord. And they gave them to me! And you know what, I think they actually are quite useful as craft scissors, they’re in my sewing box, I use them to this day.

Claire Lynch 15:14
Well, waste not want not, that’s good to know.

Kate 15:16
But so the small things, the details. And just to go back to the language, the style of the writing, which I think comes across in that bit that you read there, I’ve suddenly realised, of course, these are small, little sentences. How much had you thought about the way that you wanted to write this book.

Claire Lynch 15:30
It’s from a couple of things, really, I wanted that relationship between the mundane, you know, work of the earwax, and the poetry of the bigger picture, you know, that you’re feeling, although you’re doing all of these jobs over and over again, that it’s part of some bigger life-changing project for everybody involved. But somehow, it also has to involve a lot of stain remover. So all of that together, I wanted the language to capture that. And the, you know, the pure fact of it is I also had to write it in small sentences in the moments in between. So I had to write sentences on my phone on the landing waiting for someone to fall asleep, or in those moments next to a hospital bed. So I hope the style is also capturing that sense of time being interminably long, and also frantically short. And the language I suppose, is a way of getting into that. And getting back to that.

I hope it also means that it’s readable in those short moments of time as well, because that’s something that I’m fascinated in as well that lots of people who have read it have very kindly said to me, they’ve read it all in one go. And I think that’s a sense of that experience too, that those early years, the small years of childhood that do feel like endless nights, but also feel like suddenly, years go by without you noticing. I wanted the sentences to do that work for me, I guess,

Laura 17:00 
Claire when I picked it up, and got to the first page on my Kindle, I thought, ‘Oh, oh, dear, has Kate signed us up to read a long prose poem? That’s gonna be quite a lot of work for me.’ And then half a page and I went, ‘Oh, no.’ Ten pages, and I was like, ‘why doesn’t everyone typeset their writing like this? Why do we just fill pages with words?’ Why don’t we create space and rhythm to our prose in the way that you have done throughout this book, because it adds so much to the reading experience to have your eye guided to read in a certain way.

Elizabeth Morris 17:17
I really, really was interested in your experience as a writer of opening up in that way that incredible candour you have, because you say at various points, like at the fertility clinic that it feels exposing, to have to justify yourself as parents.

Kate 17:34
Just to add to that slightly, I was also thinking along the same lines, I was thinking when we become mothers, to a certain extent it’s like we’re sort of dropping into this predefined role very easily. And all you really have to do is play your part. And I was really struck by the fact that you didn’t fit into that format, that mould that we all take for granted, and felt quite humbled by the fact that you were having to make that identity for yourself as you went along, which is one of the really inspiring things about this book, I felt, you’re not just following along the path, you’re having to constantly negotiate it and explain it to people at the same time as just living it. There are these little moments that reoccur throughout the book, where people struggle to know what to make of you in a way, you don’t fit the pattern, and you’re quite understanding of that. But at the same time, it doesn’t stop at being hurtful.

Claire Lynch 18:17
Yeah, I mean, there’s a real contradiction. I think people who know me might think that I’m not a very candid person, I don’t think in real life. And I certainly wasn’t open about these things as they were happening. But somehow writing it down is a different set of rules, isn’t it? And there’s a face to say those things on the page that we maybe don’t say in person. I think the experience with the antenatal classes was, I hope funny in retrospect, but not that funny in the lived experience, because it was a real shock. It was a real shock in the happiness of the pregnancy to realise that there would be people who would not be able to make that stretch of imagination that we would be parents,

Kate 18:53
What sorts of things where people saying, we will read the book, so we’re familiar with it. But to listeners who haven’t read it.

Claire Lynch 18:59
Very sort of basic things like she would divide the group into mums and dads, for example, mums at one end of the room, dads at the other end of the room. it was from a quite old fashioned idea that maybe husbands would be too upset if they had to hear something about a cervix, it was kind of protecting the dads from that, but also a really clear sense of what the roles would be once a baby arrived. And it was very difficult for me to know where to be there, literally were to be in the room. And so that was difficult for both of us. And it was also difficult for everyone in the room really, because it also assumed this weird version of parenthood that nobody in the room was hoping to leave the antenatal class with a partner who would only drive them to the hospital and then do nothing thereafter. It was strange from that perspective, but it did capture something of how we think of the work of parents and sometimes how that sense of who does what can be divided along quite old-fashioned gender lines.

Elizabeth Morris 19:52
Yeah, you talk about about, in fact there’s the line where I think you say ‘so little is expected of these men’ and then there’s that amazing bit where you and the men have been put to one side to talk about things. And your presence there is kind of like a catalyst. So you sort of suspect that otherwise they’d be feeling that they had to be blokey and saying, ‘Oh, I’m worried I’ll never have sex again.’ But instead, they’re opening themselves up and talking about their vulnerabilities more, I loved that bit. I mean, I feel like I’m portraying myself as some kind of emotional wreck in everything I say about this book, but I honestly felt really moved by it, almost moved to tears, because you’re absolutely saying ‘no, here are these men with these vulnerabilities.’ No one wants to parent with that gender binary.

Laura 20:36
It resonated with me, because my husband was so angry about how the men were talked to, and how they were dismissed in our antenatal classes, which are just run by the local NHS hospitals, but he was so mad, he was so worked up, he was like, ‘Who does this woman think she is telling me how I’m going to interact with my partner and my child’, like talk about the 1970s, it felt like the attitudes were still back in the 1970s. Like, ‘Oh, your husband will just be on his phone watching sports.’ Just like ‘What? No! Like, that’s not a thing!

Kate 21:09
Before we move on to other books, I did just want to go back to the very first page of this book of yours. And it says ‘Maybe the worst thing you can do to your children is to look at them too closely, making them the beginning and the end of who you are. The time will come one day when they will want to look back at you, to find a person, not just a parent. How do you make sure you’ll still be there? … I can’t read it without crying …. ‘How do you make sure you’ll still be there when they come to find you?’ … Yes. So that idea of, especially I think with three, but any number of children, you know, there’s a certain sense that you can get really subsumed into motherhood and sorting out the earwax and arranging the birthday parties and everything else that goes with it and what’s left? What do you have left of yourself. And I’d love that one of the many things woven into this book is that you’re reflecting on that.

Claire Lynch 22:01
Thank you, I hope. First I’m going slightly worried that my poor children have been made out to be 80% earwax in this conversation, which they don’t deserve [laughter] because I’m obviously always cleaning their ears. But I hope, I mean, one of the things that obviously grew out of those experiences, and that’s behind the book is an attempt to maybe just for my own sake, but to kind of correct any feelings of being not quite the real mum or being on the outside of it. And I guess the book serves that purpose for me in some way. And that idea of being there being a real person afterwards. There’s also for me a kind of sense that the book is a monument to that, to what it is to be a mother. And I can feel that I’ve done that, in a way. I like to think hopefully one day that they will read it, but I also already know enough about motherhood, to understand that they probably could hardly care less, and will never look at the damn thing [laughs]. But that idea that maybe what we do is exist in our own right in some other fashion, precisely with that thought in mind, to exist beyond the ‘mother’ version of ourselves. I think that’s really important.

Kate 23:05
I loved also – just to go back to Virginia Woolf in our introduction – the epigraph, ‘The immense success of our life is, I think, that our treasure is hid away, or rather in such common things that nothing can touch it’ – the small things, the small, everyday things, but also the small life changing things. It’s all bound up in this very wonderful book. Anyway, let’s talk about books and motherhood more generally. What are some books that have been important to us, fiction or nonfiction? Elizabeth, shall we start with you?

Elizabeth Morris 23:34
The book I want to talk about and you’ve read it Kate and I think you have Claire is Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder. Nightbitch is about an exhausted stay-at-home mother who begins to think that she is turning into a dog, and she kind of does turn into a dog. So this woman, Nightbitch, she is an artist, and she is totally knackered. She’s become a stay-at-home mum, she’s not working on art anymore. She feels really, really angry about the position of working mothers in society and that she’s been sold to this sham of working, pumping and not holding her baby. So she wants desperately to be with her son, but she also really, really just feels exhausted and bored. Her partner is spectacularly useless. The toddler won’t sleep, which I found incredibly relatable. At the beginning of the book, there’s this spiralling claustrophobia, that for people who have read Elena Ferrante, her book Days of Abandonment, it’s kind of reminiscent of that. It’s reminiscent of books like Megan Hunter’s The Harpy, which is about real marital discord and maternal rage. When you first read it, it feels painfully familiar as a parent, it feels viscerally real. And I remember having a moment where I was like, ‘Can I actually bear to keep reading this book?’ and then there’s this wild transformation, where she begins to not be consumed by these feral urges, the fact that she’s dying to eat meat, the fact that she has a heightened sense of smell, she begins to embrace it. And she and her son are playing these riotous games and she’s really enjoying her days with him. And she shows up to the Book Babies group with her hair wildly back combed, they do give into their cravings for raw meat.

So what the book is doing is it’s really skewering the way that society wants to put women in their place, to see mothers as docile and insignificant, and instead saying, you know, no, motherhood is primal and gloriously messy, and it’s unbridled. And at the same time as her giving-in to these things, she’s also discovered this rare anthropological text by a woman called Wanda White, where this woman has allegedly discovered these tribes of were-women who live in Siberia and nurture their young. And through all of this, the mother finds a new way of being a mother. And she also finds a new way of making art. The book is, I mean, it’s disturbing and unnerving. But there’s something incredibly fun about it, it’s savagely funny, it’s very sly.

Kate 26:16
It’s a joy.

Elizabeth Morris 26:17
I’m obsessed with it. As you can tell.

Kate 26:19
It’s the sort of book, you read it, and then you want to run screaming down the street with joy, I think, because it gives you licence to do that. It says that’s okay. But yeah, the idea of refusing to submit to this role that is expected of her. And in fact, when she gives in and follows her own urges, which are obviously then very exaggerated in this story of physical manifestations of these these kinds of – but it’s also funny because I think it ties into the strange and bizarre things that happen to the female body through the process of pregnancy and breastfeeding and all of that – so there’s that element to it as well.

Elizabeth Morris 26:59
Yeah, the things that no one actually tells you beforehand, because they’re too unladylike – like the soaking night sweats you experience when you’ve first had a child. So yeah, all of those things that are very carnal and physical. And yeah, there’s a bit where she goes out with two friends who are artists who are ‘working mothers’, I say that in scare quotes, because the book is really like ‘No, a working mother, that’s not a thing. That’s a nonsense concept.’ She goes out with these two women who are artists, and she says that she begins to see them as they see her, flabby and insignificant and not doing anything. So the book does also talk about how everyone in our society is complicit in putting mothers in this sort of sanitised, idealised but unimportant place. Can I just read my favourite quote from the book?

Kate 27:51
Oh yes, I folded down so many corners, I couldn’t actually pick one.

Elizabeth Morris 27:54
One of the bits I really love in the book is this absolute takedown of the concept of the working mother. So Nightbitch has met up with a fellow mother, one of her working mother, artist-friends. And this other mum says to her, ‘And how do you like being a working mother?’ And she thinks about it? ‘No,’ the mother finally said, ‘I think “working mother” is perhaps the most nonsensical concept ever concocted, I mean, who isn’t a working mother? And then you add a paid job to it. So what are you then, a “working working mother”? Imagine saying “working father”.’ It’s just brilliant.

Kate 28:31
Yes, she absolutely skewers all that.

Laura 28:33
I haven’t read the book, so I don’t have a total view on whether ‘working mother’ is the right term or not. But in my mind, the working mothers would be the mothers who are working in the home because that is a full time job that, you know, if you have an office job, you know, you enlist other people to do the very, very significant challenging work involved in being with small children full time.

Elizabeth Morris 28:56
Yeah, for sure. I mean, every mother is a working mother

Kate 29:00
There’s always someone working somewhere.

Elizabeth Morris 29:02
It’s just such a good book. It’s brilliant. It’s just totally different. I think I’ve been describing it to people as being like ‘super-fun’ though. And one of my friends did say she was really put off by the fact that several rabbits and a cat were killed in in all the drama so there is that kind of disturbing element.

Kate 29:23
I loved it. Claire, how about you?

Claire Lynch 29:26
I have read it. I loved it. My only regret is a small one is I wish she didn’t mention at the beginning this ‘So I was just reading The Yellow Wallpaper like I did once in college, and then does this brilliant new imagining of that story. It just doesn’t need it because it’s so fantastic, and I feel Jenny Offil’s cover note, it says ‘graceful, funny and unnerving as hell’ is about a perfect description of it. Because I’m still a little bit frightened now a couple of weeks after reading it. Disturbed. Yeah, I think it’s fabulous.

Kate 29:53
Yeah the book clubber in me would want to point out that I felt personally that it lost its way a bit with Wanda and the rituals.

Elizabeth Morris 29:59
Oh, I like it. I love it. I love all the like mad performance art that it sort of veers off into.

Kate 30:06
Yeah no, at that point she lost me slightly, but I loved it, loved it, loved it. So Claire, what about another book that has been important to you?

Claire Lynch 30:12
I thought to suggest Sheila Heti’s book Motherhood, which lots of people will have come across, I chose it because I think that idea of problematizing the idea of motherhood being necessary or the only outcome for women, I think it’s good to have those books in this discussion of motherhood, really. It’s a sort of philosophical exploration as to whether or not the narrator of this maybe novel, maybe memoir, should or should not become a mother. And what she does in this three-year period of thinking through this whole life-changing question Is she has this system of tossing coins to help her make a decision. So it’s flipping three coins based on a very ancient Chinese method of helping you to divine what you should do. Should I just read a line or so just to give people a little sense of it? The narrator says, ‘Maybe raising children really is a thankless task. Maybe there’s no reason to thank someone for putting their energies into a human who did not need to be born. Then should we be trying to work against this impulse, as Miles said? Pass through our childbearing years without bearing a child, no matter how much we might desire it, but to selflessly, and with all our might do whatever we can to avoid it? To find our value and greatness in some place apart from mothering, as a man must find his worth and greatness in some place, apart from domination and violence. And the more women and men who do this, the better off the world will be.’

So it’s this idea that maybe the assumption of motherhood is a trap, really, and the thinking of alternative ways to be. So I think is really fascinating. The writing is incredible. But I have a massive, ‘but, also’ caveat about it, which is the assumption in the book is that it is just a matter of choice. The assumption is that it is just a question that a person may or may not opt into this role, depending on whether or not they’ve made the decision to do so. And I think that makes it a little bit problematic, it’s is kind of a niggle, to me, the idea that the power of that choice, the idea that can just be a philosophical question, rather than something more practical as well.

Kate 32:16
Sounds like it might be good for book club.

Claire Lynch 32:17
It’d be great for book club because I think it would really divide people. I think it’s this generation’s Rachel Cusk really.

Laura 32:24
That’s a very good segue to a book I wanted to put on our radar. I haven’t read it. It’s actually being crowdfunded right now on unbound.com. It’s by journalist Kat Brown. She is also the founder of the Jilly Cooper book club. We interviewed her for the podcast in the early days, and she’s crowdfunding for a book called No One Talks About This Stuff: 15 writers on their experience of infertility, childlessness, baby loss, and almost motherhood. She has contributors like Alice Jolly, Laura Barton, Seetal Savla, Stella Duffy, Sophia Money-Coutts, a range of very inspiring women. And I just felt it would be remiss if we didn’t talk about women who aren’t mothers, whether by choice or not by choice. So many of my friends are not mothers for various reasons. And I never really expected to be a mother, it wasn’t really part of my life plan. And then I thought maybe I should try and then it happened.

And then that leads on to the book I was going to recommend, which is A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk. Kate posted it to me a few months back, I would not have picked it up by myself. Despite being a mother to a two-and-a-half year old. I don’t feel particularly connected to an identity as a mother, I was talking about this with my husband. I am my daughter’s mother, and she is my daughter. And we have a very direct relationship. But in a pack of mothers, I don’t necessarily identify. And I think that’s because I’m very privileged to have a husband who does a ton of things. Unlike Nightbitch’s husband, I don’t do a lot of heavy lifting, honestly. But I did really struggle with the transition from woman-about-town, great career, living the London life, to suddenly being pregnant and the invisibility that comes with that. And then being at home with a baby.

Rachel Cusk’s book came out in the early 2000s and I think at the time was very controversial. Whereas now it feels – yeah, published in 2001 – and she was heavily criticised saying she was a terrible mother and what was she complaining about this position of privilege she was in, but she writes about those early years, the pregnancy and then those early years, which are very, very – they’re quite something, aren’t they, and you can’t really appreciate what they’re going to be like until you’re in them. And this for me, you know, reading it, I guess when my daughter was just two, helped me make sense of what had happened to me, and also gave me a sense too that life was going to continue and that the identity I’d had previous to being mother was going to continue too, just that you’re stretched, aren’t you you have different selves once you’ve had a child.

Kate 34:45
Yeah, I think the striking thing about that is the searing honesty with which she writes about all the bad things. I think there is a lot of self-censorship that goes on because you know how privileged you are to have managed to give birth and to have a healthy child – not everyone manages to do that, then there’s this thing – you know, ‘Well you wanted this. You can’t complain about it. Who do you think you are?’ And it’s tricky that because the stuff you go through, oh my God, like no-one can tell you, no-one can warn you, every single thing is going to happen to you, whether it’s good, whether it’s bad, whether it’s the most joyful, wonderful thing ever, whether is just the most awful thing that you can barely bring yourself to even think about because it was so terrible, but you’ve got through it. You know, all of that is going to happen to you. And Rachel Cusk wrote about it, honestly, and she wrote about her frustration with it. She wrote about the fact that really, she wanted to be writing. And she wanted to have space to think and to create, and that this was taking her away from all of that. But she also wrote about the dichotomy in that which is that it didn’t mean she didn’t love her children, it didn’t mean that she didn’t want to be with them and nurture them and care for them and look after them. It didn’t mean that she didn’t have a bond with them. It just meant that she wanted to have both, and that that was valid, and that that was okay. And yeah, as you say the criticism that she got afterwards for just quite sort of, not defiantly – but perhaps there was a certain quality of defiance in it, which is why people felt then entitled to just Parlin in the way that they did. I wonder if it was that – Anyway, I felt like she was a real trailblazer for this honest confessional writing about motherhood, that at the time was really a rare thing.

Elizabeth Morris 36:17
I downloaded it last weekend. And I told you that I’d started the Introduction and thought it was brilliant. But I was feeling – because I’d spent my first ever night away from my toddler – I was feeling a bit too raw to read about motherhood. But one of the things I’m interested in is I feel like as you say, it was trailblazing and it sort of opened everything up for women to actually write about how bad things can really be and how awful it can be. And I think that one of the consequences – I’m not saying this as negative – I think that instead of seeing that duality, I feel like some people who don’t have children still deduce from that, that, ‘Oh, it’s completely awful. Why would anyone do it?’ And I remember recently seeing a couple of female journalists who don’t have children on Twitter saying, ‘you know what, all I hear is bad things, and it’s really off-putting.’ One of the things that I found interesting in the Introduction, when I read it is she says, ‘People who will read this book will wonder why I’ve had children,’ but I kind of got the sense of that’s not the point. The point is, both things are true.

Kate 37:21
Mmn. Mmn. And that it should be okay to express that.

Elizabeth Morris 37:24
Yeah, I mean, as everything that we feel as humans is complicated and nuanced.

Kate 37:31
My book that was talked about is a real counterpoint to that. It’s called A Ghost in the Throat. It’s by an Irish writer called Doireann ní Ghríofaa, and it’s just the most extraordinary book. I have talked about it on the podcast before, so forgive me, regular listeners, if I go back there again, but how could I not? How could I not bring this book in, because what she does is that she embraces and holds up and celebrates all of the aspects of motherhood and domestic drudgery that I – and Rachel Cusk, certainly, but also me – railed against and found really just depressing and mind numbing, and just wanted to get through them as quickly as possible. And so when I read this book, I was like, ‘Oh, my God’ [laughs] ‘there’s a really different way of viewing all this stuff.’

Elizabeth Morris 38:10
She loves laundry, doesn’t she…

Kate 38:12
She loves laundry, loves breastfeeding, can’t get enough of it. So it’s her story of what becomes an obsession with a poem, which has been handed down orally and then was written down in words, but it’s been handed down since the 18th century, I think it was, and it’s a lament by a woman, Eileen Dubh. Her husband was killed, he was shot. And she ran out to his body, and the thing that is unforgettable about this poem is that she drank handfuls of his blood. And this poem Doireann ní Ghríofa encountered as many Irish children do in school, it’s something that’s taught over there. And at that time, she didn’t think that much of it, but then coming back to it later, as a mother, she was drawn to this woman and the sort of fierceness of her love and her voice that has been passed down. And yet nothing was known of her, and her life. And she felt that she’d been erased. Doireann ní Ghríofa has two children at the start, and then in the course of the book, she has two more. So it’s very much in the moment of breastfeeding and caring for them. This idea of a milk runs through the text, this idea of the giving of one’s body, the idea of the continuation of the female line from body to body. It’s a very physical book in lots of ways. But at the same time, her interest in this poem leads her to try and translate it herself. Because previously, it’s only been translated from the Gaelic by men. And she wants to have a go at translating it. And so she sets herself this task. She has no training in translation, but she decides that she wants to learn how to do it, and she figures it out and she starts to translate this text and at the same time, she starts to try and investigate the history of this woman who composed this poem.

And so she’s stealing moments away, you know, she’s dropping the children off at school, and then she’s going up to the carpark on top of the local Tesco’s and she’s sitting there and she’s writing bits and pieces and she’s stealing sleep. She’s staying up late so she can work on this. I loved the way that this book intertwined the idea of motherhood as a creative act, but also the creativity that she certainly had within her and how she managed to find space to express that. And then the domestic, the domestic environment as a creative space, as a nurturing space, as a space that’s constructed, and who constructs it? The mother does. She’s there at the heart. And so when she moves in, I was just reading earlier, refreshing my memory, she moves to a new house at the end of the book, a bigger one more space. And she frames that whole experience of encountering this space in terms of the woman who died who previously owned it. And the bulbs that have been planted by that women that are growing in the garden and the teacups…

She writes, ‘I hold tight to any small traces I find of the stranger’s life, her plastic pegs shivering on the clothesline, her teacups tucked into each other neat as dreams, the basket of soft dusting cloths under her sink. Beyond her hangers, the wallpaper she pressed onto the interior of her closets, gives them the air of distinct rooms within rooms. I attend tenderly to each of her machines, scrubbing them and setting them whirling once more, resurrecting the clockwork of tumble dryer, microwave, washing machine and dishwasher until they’re all spinning again. Slat by slat our flat-pack bed is assembled where her stood for fifty years. I hope that I will soon hold a new baby here, twisting the Allen key clockwise to tighten the headboard. I wonder whether I will inherit her dreams.’ She’s a poet as well. So it’s just beautiful the language. And it has that in common with Small I think, the way that language is used. I could talk about it all night, but I won’t – enough [laughs]. But yes, I love this. And I love this in the mix. You know, I think this is the thing. What feels to me great now is that, you know you can reach out and there are these very different books with very different experiences of motherhood and very different takes on it and different emotional responses to it. And that it’s all there. And you’re probably going to find something that chimes with you – probably actually it all will chime with you in different ways won’t it, because that’s the thing about motherhood. It’s like a kind of just tsunami of …

Elizabeth Morris 42:02
It’s not a monolith. So no one book can be held up as the thing that expresses what motherhood is. Yeah. And I think the thing about living in a patriarchal society is we need to bust our way out of that box that suggests it should be one thing.

Kate 42:17
Now I feel bad because I had hoped that we would have time to talk about more than one book each. But we’ve already I can see we’re just going over an hour. Can we quickly mention our also-rans? What were your other books that you brought along? Very briefly, Claire,

Claire Lynch 42:28
I wanted to actually sneak in, if I dare, a book called Avalanche: A Love Story by Julia Lee, which is the other side of Sheila Heti’s, he’s flipping coins really, which is a kind of desire for motherhood that doesn’t work out. I think reading those two together would be fascinating. And my second one really, which I think would be great for book groups is The Best Most Awful Job: 20 Writers Talk Honestly About Motherhood. It’s edited by Katherine May. And you know, some really, really amazing writers have contributed chapters. It’s clear from the beginning and they’re very open about this, that you know, there’s no attempt to say everything or to be a comprehensive list of all the possible flavours a mother, a person, could be. But I think it’s a great book, it would be great to read in a book group because you know [laughs] dare I say, if you didn’t have time to read all of the essays, you could read a couple and I think I have warm feelings towards it because I read it in the first lockdown on the handlebars of a pram, pushing a pram around a back garden. So you know it works in that most practical context. So I highly recommend it for that reason.

Kate 43:27
I was so struck, listening to Maggie O’Farrell talk about Hamnet, and how she wrote it, in the only place that she could find where she could get any uninterrupted respite from her family was the Wendy house in the garden, which I got the impression from the way that she talked about it was a very small sort of plastic thing that she had to literally crawl into and crouch there. And that’s why she wrote large chunks of Hamnet. And I just thought, ‘Yeah, you know, that’s what you have to do really isn’t it.’

Claire Lynch 43:53
[Laughs] There’s hope for everyone in that case.

Kate 43:56
Elizabeth, how about you?

Elizabeth Morris 43:57
I really want to very quickly mentioned Pragya Argawal’s (M)otherhood, which is – the ‘M’ is bracketed – We’ve talked already about how our ideas of motherhood within society are incredibly, deeply ingrained and really quite old-fashioned ideas and stigmas prevail. So this book’s really cool. She’s a data scientist, a behavioural and a data scientist, and it’s part memoir, part a sort of social, historical, scientific analysis of how the idea of motherhood is constructed. And actually, she looks at the fact that if you aren’t a white woman, if you’re from a lower socio-economic background, if you’re infertile, if you’re older, if you’re queer, you fall outside of the parameters of what the ideal ‘motherhood’ is. And so she talks about how these people are all marginalised and really unpacks some quite insidious things within our culture. I found it absolutely fascinating. It’s quite academic, and it took me a long time to read because I really had to pay attention between wrangling a toddler. But it there’s also this real urgency to the book. And you can tell she’s a very passionate, resistant rebellious woman. She had her daughter – she was married to an upper-class Indian man. And as a pregnant woman, her in-laws all thought she was terribly inappropriate with her pregnancy, she was going out to work and to study all the time and putting her pregnant body into spaces where for an upper-class Indian woman they really shouldn’t be. And then she ended up having this traumatic birth and the way that her in-laws treated her and said, you know, ‘If you had walked more, if you had walked less, if you hadn’t been so ambitious, if you hadn’t done this, if you hadn’t done that you would not be having this traumatic birth.’

And she said that this was the moment that she realised even though her whole life, she had really been against the idea of motherhood – she felt like this script had been prepared for her before she was even born. And as a woman, she had no choice – but in that moment, where she was in a hospital and she felt safe from all of these comments her in-laws were making, and she was talking to her daughter, she said, ‘No, motherhood is going to be my one act of resistance, and the book moves on from that point. So she talks about having twins through surrogacy, she talks about abortion, she talks about miscarriage, her own experience of infertility, and it is such an eye-opening book, it’s brilliant. She is brilliant. You see her all the time on Twitter, tirelessly crusading against prejudices, and I just have so much admiration for her. And I’ve already said more than I should, because I know that we don’t really have enough time, but it’s a great book.

Kate 46:42
Well, I was very quickly going to flag-up Elena Ferrante, The Lost Daughter, which many people may have seen recently, because there was a wonderful film starring Olivia Coleman. Someone said to me that they’d found that really hard to watch. I didn’t watch it. But I’d said ‘Yeah, I could totally see that. But I don’t think you would find the book hard to read.’ That was my experience, because the book is definitely one of those books that goes to what I think of as the dark side of motherhood. It’s the feeling trapped. It’s the feeling desperate. It’s the getting angry with the children behaving badly towards your children, and then all the feelings of guilt and regret. And yet that sense that you’ve only got one life to live and if you’re not happy, wanted to escape. So it’s all classic in Elena Ferrante she manages to pack so much into the story of a woman who is on holiday by the beach, we learned that when she was much younger, she actually left her family, she walked out on her two daughters when they were young and her husband. And then she went back three years later. It’s a dialogue between the events that happen to her older self, she gets fixated on this one particular family and a doll that belongs to a child. It’s all quite strange, that spiral of obsession that she falls into, but you understand it’s all tapping back into the things that happened to her when she was much younger and a mother, and I always think – you know, there was that thing wasn’t there about you know, sometimes it’s hypothesised that Elena Ferrante might, in fact, be a man and I always feel like no man could, could know …

Elizabeth Morris 48:00
[laughs] A man came up with that.

Kate 48:01
… the things that she knows. I just I always think that when I read her, she knows, Elena Ferrante. She knows. I also wanted to raise Shirley Jackson, Life Among the Savages, which is a very funny series of essays on family life. It’s hilarious, but because it’s Shirley Jackson, it’s also got that undercurrent of almost the uncanny. I think, with children – there can be something a bit haunting about children. That’s all I think. I sometimes think, even from very mundane things like sometimes, you know, you think they’ve all gone to bed, and you’ll be downstairs and then you know, one will just appear at the top of the stairs. And they’ll stand there staring at you silently. And it’s just really creepy. When that happens. It just is [laughs]. Things like that, the way that children almost help you access this world of dreams and imagination and monsters and demons, and it’s all very close to the surface. And so that’s all woven into the story, which is ostensibly just a very funny memoir about family life. As I understand it, her real life was not a happy one, and she wrote these pieces to make money. She wrote them for a magazine, and they paid the bills. And so I think it’s not her own true memoir of what happened, but I love the things that she chooses to pull out. And I found it incredibly relatable when I read it.

And the last one is a funny one. I just was recommended this recently. It’s called The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher. It’s a Persephone book. I interviewed Francesca Beauman, who runs Persephone, and she had mentioned it to me, she said, ‘I think it is the best book ever written on the parent-child relationship.’ It tells the story of a family, a kind of classic American nuclear family. You’ve got the Mother, the Father and the three children. The mother is the homemaker. She’s at home. She’s miserable. She hates it, you could tell it, and I have to say unfortunately, that was the part I really identified with and related to, I felt really sorry for her. Anyway, as I understand it, I haven’t got that far through it, but what happens is that the husband has an accident. He’s no longer able to go to work at the department store. And so they swap roles and she ends up going out to work. And the seeds have already been laid, I can tell she’s gonna be absolutely brilliant at it. And he meanwhile becomes the main carer at home of the children. And she’s right, it is absolutely brilliant on the parent-child relationship, I can see that. She’s brilliant at inhabiting the minds of small children and their thoughts and their concerns and how they feel about the world around them, and she’s also brilliant at the adults and the frustrations. And I’m hoping the joys at the end, I hope it all works out. I’m certainly looking forward to finishing it and finding out how it goes.

When was that book written?


Elizabeth Morris 48:30
Yeah, so that’s quite interesting, isn’t it in terms of having the man as the caregiver, something written that far back.

Kate 50:27
Yep, absolutely. First published in 1924. Ahead of its time.

Elizabeth Morris 50:30
Yeah, that’s fascinating.

Kate 50:32
I don’t know about you. I could certainly sit here and talk about books about motherhood all night. But we’ve all got busy lives and children to go to and things to do. So Claire we’ll let you go. Thank you so much for joining us. It was such a delight to read your book and then to get to talk to you about it as well. It feels like the icing on the cake

Laura 50:46
It has been such a pleasure to meet the woman behind the words. The book is such an exquisite piece of writing. Thank you for sharing it.

Claire Lynch 50:52
Ah it was a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Kate 50:53
And Elizabeth, as ever, always so thrilled when you make the pilgrimage from Greenwich up to the shed

Elizabeth Morris 50:58
Always happy to just talk about books.

Laura 51:04
That’s almost it for this episode.

Kate 51:07
Books mentioned were Small: On Motherhood by Claire Lynch, Nightbitch by Rachel Yoder, Motherhood by Sheila Heti, A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk, A Ghost in the Throat by Doireann ní Ghríofa, (M)otherhood by Praya Agarwal, Avalanche by Julia Lee, The Best Most Awful Job by Katherine May, The Lost Daughter by Elena Ferrante, The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield-Fisher, Life Among the Savages by Shirley Jackson and Laura also mentioned No-One Talks About This Stuff by Kat Brown.

Laura 51:39
Looking for more bookish chat. Don’t miss Kate’s interview with Francesca Beauman, author of The Literary Almanac, A Year of Seasonal Reading. That’s out now.

Kate 51:48
You can also check out our website, thebookclubreview.co.uk for our archive of over one-hundred episodes. If you’re feeling tired of quick fix books, and longing instead for something more substantial why not try episode #113, where we explore the pleasures of books that may take weeks, even months to read. Or dip back further into our archive. If you want the secrets to living longer, looking slimmer and feeling better, then try episode #36 on Why We Sleep. You’ll never hit the snooze button again.

Laura 52:17
As a small aside, Kate is obviously thinking about the clocks changing over the past few weeks. If you’d like to see what we’re up to between episodes, follow us on Instagram or Facebook @bookclubreviewpodcast on Twitter @bookclubrvwpod or you can email us at thebookclubreview@gmail.com and do subscribe to us to be sure you never miss an episode. And if you’d like what we do you can also rate and review the show. It helps other listeners find us. If you want to go one better please spread the word about us on your social media channels. Reaching new listeners makes us super happy. We treasure each and every one of you, and your support means so much.

Kate 52:56
This episode was produced and edited by me Kate Slotover. If you want to hear more from Claire, you can find her on Twitter @drclairelynch. That’s c-l-a-i-r-e-l-y-n-c-h. That’s our show. We hope you’ve enjoyed it. Thanks for listening and happy reading

Let us know your favourite books on motherhood. Comment below.


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