Which novels or memoirs will help prepare me for motherhood?
Q: Can you recommend any particularly good novels or memoirs about the experience of motherhood? I have a few months to prepare and this feels as important as collecting tiny babygrows. Sophie Lim, 42, London
A: Francesca Segal, author of Mother Ship (Vintage, £8.99), writes:
First of all, congratulations – I so clearly remember the urge to understand the lay of that strange new territory ahead, longing for books that might offer a way in, if only for a moment. Making Babies by Anne Enright is a wonderful place to begin, because it is funny and poignant and vivid and written by a woman who is happy in her maternity, clear-eyed, but not frightening.
Anne LaMott’s Operating Instructions: A Journal of My Son’s First Year made me roar with laughter, and is joyous because it shows that you do not have to have every black-and-white frieze hung, every muslin ironed, each educational material absorbed – you do not need a perfect life, merely an open heart and, to quote Mary Oliver, “to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves”.’ A recovering alcoholic with no money and no co-parent, LaMott does a beautiful job of loving and raising her son, who grows up to be a thoroughly good egg. I’d be remiss to leave out the magnificent A Life’s Work by Rachel Cusk, a pitch-perfect exploration of the claustrophobia and ambivalence that can come with serving the whims of a new “tetchy monarch”.
Hey Yeah Right Get a Life by the wonderful Helen Simpson has a not-great title and a terrible jacket, but is one of the most incredible short story collections about motherhood, and has women I know who’ve read it banging their fists on the table with rage and recognition and vindication. Amy Bloom has always written achingly beautiful mother-love tales, in both A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You, another short story collection, or her novel, Away, which is a mother’s picaresque journey across the US to find her lost daughter.
Finally, Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple is an excellent parody of life at the school gates, and means that in the future you will never be remotely surprised by an email demanding that you arrive the following morning with a pair of green tights, six printed family portraits, a list of every vegetable in your crisper drawer, and a tulip bulb. Armed with these texts, you will be ninja-ready.
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