All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Review: Like Mother by Cassandra Austin

on April 15, 2021

Like Mother
Cassandra Austin
Penguin Random House AUS
2021, 293p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}: Secrets, lies and crying babies, everyone has a breaking point.

It’s 1969 and mankind has leapt up to the moon, but a young mother in small-town Australia can’t get past the kitchen door. Louise Ashland ­is exhausted – her husband, Steven, is away on the road and her mother, Gladys, won’t leave her alone. At least her baby, Dolores, has finally stopped screaming and is sweetly sleeping in her cot. Right where Louise left her. Or is she?

As the day unravels, Louise will unearth secrets her mother – and perhaps her own mind – have worked hard to keep buried. But what piece of family lore is so terrible that it has been kept hidden all this time? And what will exposing it reveal about mother and daughter?

Like Mother explores what is handed down from generation to generation, and asks us whether a woman’s home is her castle or her cage.

For a large portion of this book, I found it very engrossing. I’ve read a few books that feel like they have this sort of vibe recently: exploring those days of early new motherhood and this one is set in the 1960s so it’s kind of this in-between time. In some ways, society is evolving. The contraceptive pill is in its infancy and although (married) women now have the option to plan their families, most women are still filling traditional wife and mother roles.

Louise is one such woman. Her daughter Delores (Lolly) is only a few months old and she’s probably teething so she’s been very unsettled. Louise’s husband Steven is a refrigerator salesman who spends large portions of time on the road so she shoulders the parenting alone. Even when Steven is home, he doesn’t hear Lolly’s nighttime screams. Louise is exhausted. The emotion seeps off the page, you can actually feel the fog she’s in, her confused and as the book goes on, desperate state of mind. Louise seems to have gone several days without much sleep as Lolly cries and requires constant attention. When she falls down exhausted, she wakes to find the house deadly silent. Lolly must be sleeping in her cot….right? But when Louise checks, she isn’t there. No problem, Louise must’ve left her wherever she fell asleep, she’s done it before. No point waking her. Louise convinces herself of this and that searching the house too much will only wake her and it’s best to let Lolly sleep. She needs her sleep.

I started this in the morning before going to visit some family and was so into the early portion of it that I actually took it with me, in case I snatched some time reading after lunch. I didn’t end up doing that but I was keen to get home and get back to it. I found Louise’s portrayal very well done, her tiredness, her grief at previous instances in her life, her desperation to just leave Lolly to sleep, even though she doesn’t precisely know where her daughter is. She’s sure she’s fine and that it’s better if she doesn’t wake her and start her screaming yet again. A crying baby can be a form of torture, especially to someone who is clearly sleep-deprived and struggling so in some ways, you can understand Louise’s thought process, also to protect herself from the knowledge that if Delores isn’t in the house…..or isn’t actually asleep, then how did this occur? She’s the only one there and she’s so tired she might be hallucinating….or, she might not be.

This book is told from 3 points of view: Louise, her husband-on-the-road Steven and Louise’s mother Gladys and whilst Gladys in some ways, provided some background, where the book started to lose it for me, was switching to these other points of view. Especially because it kept delving into this story about Steven where his secretary begins to blackmail him and then this part of the story grows to encompass more people and it just….I don’t know, felt like it was derailing the story for me. It was handy for establishing that Steven was a terrible husband, but honestly, we only needed that first scene for that and yet it kept taking up more and more of the plot as the book got further on and it seems that the more it did, unfortunately the more interest I lost. I found Gladys in particular, tedious to read and her infantilising of Louise become overly frustrating and I thought it was going somewhere but to be honest, it didn’t go that way and it felt like it made even less sense because of it.

The ending was also lacklustre for me and I feel like the book would’ve been a much better read for me if it had just stuck with Louise. It excelled when it was making me query where the heck this baby was and whether or not Louise’s state of mind had gone from just incredibly tired/disorientated to actually psychotic. It builds and builds really nicely and I was in two minds during Louise’s chapters the whole time but unfortunately the grand conclusion was just…a letdown. Deflating. Also the story with Steven completely fizzles out and made me wonder what the heck the entire point of it was.

Excellent idea but for me… caught up in too many other things that I just couldn’t be drawn into.


Book #58 of 2021

Like Mother is the 25th book read for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

I’m also going to count this one towards my 2021 Historical Fiction Reading Challenge, as it’s set over 50 years ago. It’s the 12th book read so far for this challenge.

One response to “Review: Like Mother by Cassandra Austin

  1. I’m yet to read this but I’ve your review insightful.

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