Beth & Luna discuss
Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas
This is the first comparision review I’m doing with Bibliobeth and it’s not a YA title. We both bought this when Beth visited me last month so it seemed like the perfect book to start with.
Josephine Hurst has her family under control. With two beautiful daughters, a brilliantly intelligent son, a tech-guru of a husband and a historical landmark home, her life is picture perfect. She has everything she wants; all she has to do is keep it that way. But living in this matriarch’s determinedly cheerful, yet subtly controlling domain hasn’t been easy for her family, and when her oldest daughter, Rose, runs off with a mysterious boyfriend, Josephine tightens her grip, gradually turning her flawless home into a darker sort of prison.
Resentful of her sister’s newfound freedom, Violet turns to eastern philosophy, hallucinogenic drugs, and extreme fasting, eventually landing herself in the psych ward. Meanwhile, her brother Will shrinks further into a world of self-doubt. Recently diagnosed with Aspergers and epilepsy, he’s separated from the other kids around town and is homeschooled to ensure his safety. Their father, Douglas, finds resolve in the bottom of the bottle—an addict craving his own chance to escape. Josephine struggles to maintain the family’s impeccable façade, but when a violent incident leads to a visit from child protective services, the truth about the Hursts might finally be revealed.
First impression of Mother, Mother?
BETH: I thought the cover was instantly captivating – I especially liked the type. And reading the blurb I made an “Ooooh” sound, so was definitely interested!
LUNA: I thought the blurb sounded really intriguing.
Is Mother, Mother a thrilling read?
BETH: At points I really think it was. It took me a little while to get into it but by the end I was literally on the edge of my seat, wanting to know what was going to happen.
LUNA: In parts. Truth be told, for the first 100+ pages I wasn’t that convinced. It’s not that I didn’t like what I was reading but it just felt like it was taking a really long time to read.
How well do you think mental health was dealt with in this novel?
BETH: Quite well, I think. There are a variety of mental health issues in this novel which seem to be experienced differently for each character. For example, when we compare Violet’s “crazy” to Josephine’s own issues, it’s a completely different ball game. And then we have the ones who tend to suffer in silence yet clearly have problems, like Rose, Will and even the father, Douglas.
LUNA: As an overview ok I think. Because of Violet’s detention she gets the more “professional” insight but even so nothing is really in-depth, having said that I did like the other patients she makes friends with. Despite their small parts in the overall story I thought they really stood out.
Which of the two sisters do you think you’d be; Violet or Rose?
BETH: Great question! Can I say a bit of both? I kind of have two sides of my personality and part of me is that good girl that stays quiet and does what her mother says to please everyone. Then there is the rebel half who rails against everything forced upon me and wants to be more of a free spirit.
LUNA: I really want to say Violet, the rebel, the girl who fights back but realistically I think I’d probably be more like Rose. Pretending to be what my mother wants to make it easier, even if I hated it. Think I’d take the Violet option of escape though.
How did you feel about the character of Will?
BETH: I really felt for Will in this novel. He is the youngest of the siblings and hasn’t had it easy as his mother’s favouritism of Rose or Violet’s wild behaviour tended to overshadow whatever he did, thought or said. He was quite an endearing little creature and it was quite obvious to me that his mother gave him the wrong sort of love, and how was he to know any better?
LUNA: At the beginning I really adored Will, a big part of this book was spent with me wanting him to be rescued from Josephine but it becomes clear that in some ways Will doesn’t want rescuing and I struggled with that.
Violet accuses her father of being a bystander, this being worse than Josephine’s abuse. Do you think that’s fair?
BETH: I don’t think that it’s necessarily worse, especially considering what Josephine DOES get up to but I do agree that while Douglas stood by and refused to see what was right underneath his nose took the abuse to a dangerous level whereas it could have been stopped sooner.
LUNA: When Violet initially says it I completely understood her point but after the soup incident I forgive her father a little. He’s sabotaged, so it made me question how many of his blackouts were his fault or Josephine’s doing.
That said he used his alcoholism as an excuse so by the time he does actually get involved it’s too little too late.
We learn that Josephine has had a tough childhood. Does this account for the way in which she treats her children?
BETH: Yes and No. I suppose it all depends on the whole nature versus nurture question. Are we born a certain way or do we learn all our behaviours? I certainly think that having a difficult childhood perhaps provided Josephine with bad tools for when she became a parent, but at the same time not all people with bad childhood experiences grow up to abuse their children.
LUNA: Josephine is such an unreliable character that I’m still not sure how much of her bad childhood is actually true and how much she twisted it. As Beth said, the nature vs nurture argument springs to mind. While your environment can be an influence I still think it comes down to a decision. Josephine chooses to do the things she does.
How do you feel about William’s relationship with his mother?
BETH: Will’s relationship with his mother was the most interesting relationship in the book for me. It is incredibly destructive and Josephine is a master manipulator and queen of emotional blackmail! Yet Will keeps coming back for more, desperate to please his mother who can do no wrong in his eyes. I would have loved to see some chapters from Josephine’s point of view, because I think an insight into her thoughts would be intensely freakish.
LUNA: I think it’s Will’s faith in his mother, even at the end, that disturbed me the most about this story. Josephine is an amazing manipulator and you see that the most in William’s chapters. Their whole relationship just gave me the creeps, certain things in particular; Josephine still giving him baths, the punishments, the c-word incident.
What did you think of the layout of the chapters i.e. having a dual narrative?
BETH: I love when we can see situation through more than one pair of eyes. As mentioned above, I would have LOVED to see what Josephine was thinking at points – although it may make the book profoundly more disturbing than it already is? However, Will and Violet are a great pair of voices for the story and it was interesting to read about the same event with a different perspective.
LUNA: I liked the dual narration; I don’t think it would have had quite the same impact without it. Will’s chapters are the ones that really give the insight into just how manipulative Josephine is.
Would you recommend it?
BETH: But of course!
LUNA: Overall, yes.