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A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother by…
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A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother

by Rachel Cusk

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There are so many 'celebrity baby books' out there, none of which I would touch with a barge pole, with their soft-focus vomit-inducing coochie-coochie-coo. I don't even fancy those matey ones that slap their thighs, wink and hoot 'What am I like....' whilst recounting a string of sanitised 'parenting fail' moments. This is different. This one looks you in the eye with a dangerously frank expression and says 'no, I really am crap at parenting'.

Clearly pregnancy did not addle Ms Cusk's brain. I was reaching for my dictionary by page 2 (would not have expected anything less, having read much of her excellent fiction). It is intelligent, incisive, thoughr provoking. It dares to say things other books don't, and there were many sections that struck a chord with me, notably the description of a caesarean, and the worry afterwards: "...in truth my experience of birth was more like the experience of having an appendix removed than what most people would understand by 'labour'. Without its connecting hours, the glue of its pain, the literalness of its passage, I fear that I will not make it to motherhood.'

Some sections are conventionally amusing, such as the scene at the breastfeeding clinic, or the tale of being wrong-footed by a toddler group clique. And she is disparaging about almost all the health professionals she encounters: "A health visitor came to see us in our embattled kitchen. She produced sheaves of leaflets and laid each one lovingly on the table for me to study while behind her the baby looted her handbag, undetected'.

There is perhaps a sniffy air about the narrative that might put some readers off. What comes across at times is a highly intellectual woman in a situation where intellect has little or no bearing. It confers no special status. Women with lower IQs might well be better at it. Probably not intentional. There is a type of mum she is addressing, though: the ones who, like her, don't identify with the eareth mothers they read about in books, or feel cheated by the homogenity of the 'propaganda' handed out by midwives. Her assessment of 'Emma's Diary', which I was also given on an antenatal visit and which still sits on my bookshelf, was savagely amusing. To admit you sympathise, or even agree with her observations is to place yourself outside the Sisterhood, but I guess there are people out there who will, and I count myself among their number.

I knew the book was controversial. That was part of the attraction for me. There is a brave honesty in many of the events and feelings she recounts. Many will not approve. But I think if there is a cause for concern in there it is the striking similarity between the narrative tone of this, and the voice of Eva in 'We Need to Talk About Kevin'. Now that really is a scary thought. ( )
  jayne_charles | Oct 26, 2011 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0312311303, Paperback)

The experience of motherhood is an experience in contradiction. It is commonplace and it is impossible to imagine. It is prosaic and it is mysterious. It is at once banal, bizarre, compelling, tedious, comic, and catastrophic. To become a mother is to become the chief actor in a drama of human existence to which no one turns up. It is the process by which an ordinary life is transformed unseen into a story of strange and powerful passions, of love and servitude, of confinement and compassion.

In a book that is touching, hilarious, provocative, and profoundly insightful, novelist Rachel Cusk attempts to tell something of an old story set in a new era of sexual equality. Cusk’s account of a year of modern motherhood becomes many stories: a farewell to freedom, sleep, and time; a lesson in humility and hard work; a journey to the roots of love; a meditation on madness and mortality; and most of all a sentimental education in babies, books, toddler groups, bad advice, crying, breastfeeding, and never being alone.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 14:10:58 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

When there is no longer agreement about what it is to be a woman, what does it mean to be a mother? In this book, Rachel Cusk offers a dark, witty account of a year of motherhood. Previous ed.: London: Fourth Estate, 2001.

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