I’ve not read anything by Sally Hepworth before though have heard of her very popular The Secrets of Midwives and last year’s The Things We Keep. I wasn’t sure The Mother’s Promise would be for me given my increasingly cynical nature (which I put down to ageing, rather than becoming bitter, twisted and malcontent in general), but was surprised that it wasn’t overly sentimental or saccharin-y.The Mother's Promise
by Sally Hepworth
Published by Macmillan Australia
on February 28th 2017
Genres: Women's Fiction
Alice and her daughter Zoe have been a team of two all their lives. With no family to speak of, and the identity of Zoe's father shrouded in mystery, they've never needed anyone else - until Alice gets sick.
Desperate to find stability for Zoe, Alice reaches out to two near-strangers: Kate, her oncology nurse, and Sonja, her social worker.
As the lives of the three women become inextricably tied, a chain of events is set into motion, forcing them to confront their deepest fears and secrets.
This was an interesting read for me and I suspect – as a non-mother – my thoughts will probably be a little different to those of others.
It was certainly an enjoyable novel, though when I first started was reminded of People Who Knew Me by Kim Hooper, which is also centred around a woman (with past secrets and diagnosed with cancer) and her daughter.
It’d be easy to think it’s unrealistic that Alice has no one she can turn to in her time of need. And I did wonder why she’d never met any of Zoe’s friends’ parents etc, but we soon learn that Zoe has social anxiety disorder and leads a very sheltered life with her mother and best friend… even though she’d desperately like things to be different.
Alice finds herself having to spend time in hospital and relying on cancer care nurse Kate and hospital social worker Sonja. Both are dealing with shitty stuff in their own personal lives but make a special effort, aware that Alice and Zoe have no one else.
We meet Alice’s brother – an alcoholic who’s unable (and unwilling) to make the changes Alice needs. But it’s Zoe who’s pushed beyond her expectations as the relationship with her best (and only) friend breaks down at the time of her mother’s diagnosis. It brings things to a head for the young teenager who’s completely dependent on her mother. As her mother is on her.
And… here’s where I piss some people off… it’s hard not to think that some of Zoe’s situation hasn’t been exacerbated by her mother. Alice has ‘let’ Zoe get away with a lot of stuff and doesn’t challenge or push her. I completely understand that you shouldn’t force someone with a mental illness / anxieties beyond their limits (or at all), but it’s only when Zoe doesn’t have her mother making excuses, letting her stay away from school and ‘enabling’ her that she starts to realise she’s braver, stronger and more able to cope than she thinks.
Having said that I’d probably be a push-over parent. Too lazy to argue or fight or too eager to keep the peace, I’d probably acquiesce way more than I should as well. But… it’s hard watching it from the outside and I’m fairly sure most of us have – at some point – looked at others around us and pondered how things ‘could’ be different.
Of course there’s a crisis of sorts that I didn’t see coming until it was almost upon us and Hepworth did a great job of playing some of those cards close to her chest.
Her characters were great. The three women and Zoe were all fabulous and their other relationships were complex and far from the happily-ever-after we sometimes expect.
I knew this was going to be sad and I thought Hepworth did a wonderful job of eking out Alice’s illness and uncertainty regarding her future (and that of Zoe’s) without it becoming overly sentimental or twee.
There’s a note from Hepworth with the media release I received centering around the issue of who we have in our lives. Many are spoilt for choice when we have to contemplate what would happen to our children – partners, family, friends all willing to step up should something happen to us. But Hepworth said she pondered what would happen if you didn’t have those around you. It was a tad confronting for me… although I’ve got friends – they’ve all got partners and kids and other priorities.
I very much enjoyed this novel from Hepworth and won’t be as afraid of reading her other work now…. knowing that it might be challenging – emotionally – but won’t necessarily result in me huddled in foetal position sobbing hysterically.
The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth published in Australia by Pan Macmillan on 28 February 2017.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.