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In my mother's hands : a disturbing memoir…
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In my mother's hands : a disturbing memoir of family life

by Elizabeth Ward

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I was uneasy with this memoir. It tells the story of the author's childhood, living with a mother who was almost certainly schizophrenic in 1950s Australia, where mental illness was poorly misunderstood and treated. The author wrestles with a dreadful situation, and highlights how poorly society dealt with post-natal depression and mental illness and the awful choices families faced - try to keep living around the problem or commit a family member to fairly brutal 'therapy'.

I increasingly struggled to share Ward's sympathy for her womanising father, who treats his clearly unwell with frustration and contempt. These are human reactions of course and obviously it's hard to judge the specifics of a situation like this, but it all sat a bit awkwardly with me.

Side note: for the third year running I've read the Stella Prize long-list in full. It's a fantastic selection of books this year (as it has been every year) and has turned me on to some wonderful books and writers. My vote for this year would probably go to Only the Animals or Foreign Soil, but you'd really better read them all. ( )
  mjlivi | Feb 2, 2016 |
Generous, often distressing but by no means miserable memoir about growing up with a mentally ill mother in the unsympathetic 1950s and 1960s, by the daughter of Russell Ward, an eminent Australian historian. For my full review, please see: http://whisperinggums.com/2015/04/02/biff-ward-in-my-mothers-hands-review/ ( )
  minerva2607 | May 23, 2015 |
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There are secrets in this family. Before Biff and her younger brother, Mark, there was baby Alison, who drowned in her bath because, it was said, her mother was distracted. Biff too, lives in fear of her mother's irrational behaviour and paranoia, and she is always on guard and fears for the safety of her brother. As Biff grows into teenagehood, there develops a conspiratorial relationship between her and her father, who is a famous and gregarious man, trying to keep his wife's problems a family secret. This was a time when the insane were committed and locked up in Dickensian institutions; whatever his problems her father was desperate to save his wife from that fate. But also to protect his children from the effects of living with a tragically disturbed mother. In My Mother's Hands is a beautifully written and emotionally perplexing coming-of-age true story about growing up in an unusual family.… (more)

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