All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: A Good Enough Mother by Bev Thomas

on June 18, 2019

A Good Enough Mother
Bev Thomas
Faber & Faber
2019, 336p
Copy courtesy of Allen & Unwin

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Ruth Hartland is the director of a trauma therapy unit in London. A psychotherapist with years of experience, she is highly respected in her field and in her office. But her family life tells another story: her marriage has fractured; her daughter has moved far, far away to Australia; and Tom, her teenage son, after years of struggling with being a child who never fit in, has disappeared and has had no contact with anyone for two years. Ruth’s fragile son has always been sensitive and anxious, the opposite of his cheerful and resilient sister. Is he hiding? Is he dead? How did she fail him, and how can she find him after all this time?

Then Ruth is assigned a new patient, a young man who bears a striking resemblance to her own son. Ruth is determined to help Dan, but her own complicated feelings and family history cloud her judgement–and professional boundaries, once inviolable, are crossed. When events spiral out of control, Ruth will have to accept the unacceptable, and reckon with those who truly matter in her life. A brilliant, beautiful story of mothering, and how to let go of the ones we love when we must.

I was really excited for this just from reading the blurb. However, upon actually reading it, I did struggle with it a bit, pretty much because of Ruth, the main character. She’s the director of a trauma therapy unit, she seems very high profile working with difficult cases and with a lot of experience. When she receives a new patient, she should relinquish him to another therapist immediately. He reminds her of her son, who vanished over two years ago without a trace. He hasn’t been in contact, there has been no information, no sightings, nothing. It’s entirely possible that if he didn’t vanish to end his life, he’s dead now by some other way, something that Ruth refuses to think about. However instead of doing the professional thing and giving up this patient, which is also the right thing to do, not just for the patient but for herself as well, she doesn’t. Whether it’s because by helping him when she couldn’t help her son, she feels as though she’s….saving him anyway? I’m not sure. The motivation is murky. Sometimes it just seems like she just wants to be with him, to spend time with him because she cannot spend time with her son. It seemed both dangerous and a bit creepy, from a professional therapist, who shouldn’t be making their patients all about themselves.

As the story progresses, Ruth spins more and more out of control, crossing more boundaries, acting in a more unprofessional manner. Interwoven with this story of her patient Dan is also the story of Ruth’s son Tom and the way in which he is different to her other child, her daughter Carolyn. Tom struggled very much from an early age, not adapting to child care like his sister and so it’s the story of Ruth adapting her life in order to suit Tom. She spends a lot of time and effort trying to help him and then if that doesn’t work, rearranging everything so that Tom is prioritised. Tom definitely has some social difficulties and some anxieties or issues with depression as he gets older. He struggles with a lot of things, particularly things that his sister finds easy. She sails through school work, gets accepted to do a degree but then disappears to the other side of the world in Australia.

I have two really different kids – my oldest is super confident, will never die wondering, is very popular at school and very smart. He makes friends very easily and is friends with everyone. Even when I was picking him up when he was in his first year of school, kids in grades 5 and 6, teachers that teach high school, were saying hi to him as we walked across the school yard. My younger child is also smart but lacks self confidence. He’s very shy, very unsure of himself, crippled with social anxiety at times. He doesn’t make friends easily and at his age, the confidence to befriend people is really important in constructing those early social groups. He freezes when put on the spot and I was told every week in his first year of school he needed to work on his resilience, work on his resilience, work on his resilience. I grew to loathe the word resilience! A lot of parents have two really different kids. Sometimes there’s one that simply demands more time and mental energy than another. And it must be a million times harder when one of your children has troubles that are probably mental illness. But this shouldn’t lead to a repeated sacrifice of one child’s needs to benefit another, which is what Ruth seems to do. She seems to adopt the philosophy that her daughter will be fine, because she’s more resilient (there’s that word again), more self-confident, more socially comfortable. At times, she almost seems to resent her daughter for being able to do things that Tom cannot do and make friends, have a social life, get excellent marks, get out and about, etc. I actually felt deeply sorry for Carolyn, because it’s so obvious in so many ways all of the concessions her mother makes for her brother, concessions that she expects others to make. And yet it’s interesting that it doesn’t particularly affect the sibling relationship too much, instead the impact is all on Ruth’s relationship with her daughter. Ruth is so one-eyed she doesn’t see how this continued behaviour affects her marriage, her relationship with her other child…..or she does and she doesn’t care. Tom it seems, is always her priority. And it is this determined devotion and desperation to ‘fix it’ that seems to lead to her making these disastrous decisions when it comes to Dan and his treatment. Dan is deeply, deeply disturbed, he’s clever and very manipulative and even though there are red flags, warning sirens and flashing lights everywhere, Ruth cannot or will not see them. She keeps blundering on, making mistake after mistake, crossing boundaries, compromising her professional ethics until it culminates in the most violent of tragedies. There were ample opportunities to possess the information needed to perhaps stop this from happening and it’s Ruth’s lack of professionalism and basically doing her job that means these opportunities go begging. And I never really got the feeling of that much remorse or reflection from her either, toward the end.

I found Ruth such a frustrating character with such biased motives that she really messed things up for a lot of people. The idea that someone of her professional experience and position would act in this manner was really quite disturbing. Not just in taking the patient but the lying, omitting facts and continued crossing of professional boundaries that she did in order to try and juggle him, the clear ignoring of indicators of severe disturbance and the fact that his resemblance to her son meant that she wasn’t able to view him objectively and was in way over her head. So many ways in which she could have redeemed herself and…..just didn’t do any of them.


Book #82 of 2019


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