Mothers And Daughters
Allen & Unwin
Read from my local library
Fiona, Caro, Morag and Amira all met when their children began school together, almost ten years ago now. Fiona, Caro and Amira all have daughters – Bronte, Janey and Tess. Morag is sort of the odd one out, having twin boys, the only experience with girls being her rebellious sixteen year old stepdaughter. Fiona, Caro, Morag and Fiona’s daughter Bronte and Caro’s daughter Janey are all travelling to remote Western Australia to visit Amira and her daughter Tess. Amira and Tess moved to an Aboriginal community at the beginning of the year, about nine months ago and they haven’t seen each other since. Each of them are looking forward to catching up with Amira and Tess and for Morag this is her first real holiday ‘alone’. No husband, no twin boys, no younger son and no stepdaughter. Or so she thinks.
But this holiday is not entirely like some of them expected. The community where they are staying is far removed from what they term as civilisation. It’s a dry community, although private drinking may be conducted discreetly. It’s oppressively hot, the sun can burn in minutes and also they’re forced to deal with each other’s company perhaps more than even good friends should on holiday. In such an isolated place there’s no where to go to escape each other’s differing opinions and the fact that no one stays the same forever. Bronte and Janey are no longer friends, as they were in childhood and they also find Tess much changed from when she left Melbourne. When Morag’s teenage stepdaughter arrives it adds even more to an already volatile pot.
Mothers And Daughters is Kylie Ladd’s fourth novel, revolving around a very different mix of mothers who became friends when their children all began prep (kindergarten/first year of school) together. Now those children are fourteen and much has changed. Bronte and Janey now go to different high schools and aren’t particularly friends anymore. Bronte is cripplingly shy, awkward in herself whereas Janey trains for the state swim teams and is definitely more outgoing, ready to grow up before her time. Tess has been changed by her move to the Aboriginal community, her world no longer revolving around facebook updates and who is doing what. She has thrived there but it also means that there’s somewhat little to connect her with her former friends, although Bronte is eager to learn everything about the community, especially the Aboriginal art.
This is an interesting exploration of the mother daughter relationship as well as the friendship formed in the classroom, both for the children and the adults. I don’t have a daughter, I have two sons and I have to admit, this book made me briefly glad that I don’t. Fiona is abrasively harsh on her shy daughter, loathing her awkwardness and her tendency to introvert all the while not realising that she does negative things for Bronte’s already fragile self-confidence. Fiona is the character I liked the least – she spews forth the sort of negative views that it’s sad many Australians still hold today, which is bad enough but the way in which she expresses herself is even more distasteful. I expected someone, perhaps Amira to pull her up on the way she talks but this is only ever done in a sort of laughing ‘Oh, Fiona!” sort of way, like, what is she going to come out with next? Ladd holds a mirror up to white hypocrisy with Fiona denigrating the Aboriginal tendency to have problems with alcohol, all the while hocking into her third bottle of Chardonnay for the night, or after she’s vomited up a dinner of alcohol into the bushes. Because Fiona drinks in a “civilised” setting, ie with dinner, with alcohol she can well afford, proper wine and spirits, it’s ignored that she either has a problem or is well on the way to having one. A borderline functioning alcoholic who seemingly drinks to escape the misery of her marriage and the life she has now found herself in, I could have perhaps sympathised with Fiona if she didn’t tend to throw words like “boong” around with such careless abandon.
The relationship between the teenage girls proves just how cruel they can be. Janey has been spoiled and overindulged from birth, always told that she’s perfect, clever and beautiful and it seems that she’s been able to glide through life with very little in the way of consequences for her behaviour. The way she acts in this book is horrifying on a couple of levels but the cruelty of what she does to Bronte is perhaps the worst. I feel as though no one particularly dealt with this very well, least of all her own mother who was vague and seemed to think saying sorry was perhaps enough. When one of the others asked what punishment Janey would receive, it was like it hadn’t even occurred to Caro that there should be a punishment. At least Janey’s behaviour did eventually lead to Bronte taking the first step in standing up for herself and hopefully that gave her more confidence in herself and paved the way for not only a better relationship with herself but also with her mother.
I know Kylie Ladd lived in Broome for a year and I think it’s a brave choice to tackle the social issues she does in this novel. I loved the setting – Broome has long been a place I want to visit and I found myself somewhat enchanted by the community Amira and Tess have moved to, loving the stories that are told by the locals, even when some of them are painful and sad. We have a long and troubled history with the indigenous population and even though improvements are made each year, there’s still a long way to go and still a lot of attitudes to change. The women were an interesting mix, proof that kids can bring together unlikely people and create a lasting friendship. I probably identified the most with Morag. I’m not from overseas but I do live far from where I grew up and have hostile stepchildren – far more hostile than Morag actually experiences! Time away from my kids is also incredibly rare, in fact I’ve been away alone once in six years so I could definitely relate to her feelings about that and how she felt when her husband informed her that her stepdaughter was arriving.
Even though I often didn’t enjoy the characters, I did enjoy this book and the themes. Relationships between mothers and daughters are often troubled and hard to capture but I think Ladd has done an excellent job, as usual, in portraying the complexity, especially with many different characters.
Book #215 of 2014
Mothers And Daughters is book #80 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2014