Friday, June 10, 2011
Night Waking: book review
Set on an isolated island off the coast of Northern Scotland, Anna is a well respected academic (a fellow at Oxford) who goes with her husband Giles (an ornithologist who studies puffins) to spend the summer at the family home with their two children Raph (7) and Moth (2). The plan is that Giles will be able to study his puffins while Anna finishes her latest book.
But of course the children still need to be cared for and it is Anna who ends up looking after them. This is a very honest, funny and sometimes bitter portrayal of the realities of life with children. Anna is in constant tension between the need to care for the kids and her desire to work on her book. She's also getting broken sleep as her 2yo wakes a few times each night and her 7 yo wakes with anxieties and fears. Her exhaustion is a theme throughout the story and she is completely obsessed with her one hour of peace in the afternoon when the toddler sleeps.
She experiences a constant frustration with Giles who is working so can't possibly help with the children but then criticises her for not moving forward on completing her book fast enough. He also wants the children to eat healthier food but it's Anna who takes responsibility for baking the home made bread each day. She's also the one managing the two year old's constant requests for biscuits.
The repetitiveness of the book can become a little predictable - until you remember that's what parenting is like. Constant and sometimes dull.
I enjoyed this book because it is not simply a story of the struggles of motherhood. Interwoven is a mystery relating to remains of a baby that the family discover in their backyard. Other stories of infant deaths on the fictitious island from centuries before are also included.
I'm sure I wasn't meant to relate to this book (if I was a proper mother) but it did make me laugh and reassure me that the journey of motherhood is, once again, far, far removed from a Huggies ad. Sometimes it is helpful to have some of the darkness, isolation and fear that mothers feel articulated in literature - to have someone say what we might find hard to say out loud ourselves.