Jun 1, 2012

The Weeknight Book Club: The Mothers' Group by Fiona Higgins

Image courtesy of www.virginialloyd.com

In my adult life, my contact with newborns and infants have been meticuously stage managed events.  Appointments are made weeks in advance with confirmation the evening before to make sure that that the appointed time fits in with the family timetable and that I haven't manage to catch anything that I could spread with my visit.  Terrified of necks not strong enough to hold heads up and of potentially dropping a precious child, I've only ever held babies under 'safe conditions' - seated on a large couch, without distractions like hot drinks or food and only when the said child is handed to me by their brave mother.  So what goes on in the other 23 hours and 52 minutes of a baby and their mother's day is a complete mystery to me.

'The Mothers' Group' is Australian author Fiona Higgins' novel about a group of six very different women who live in Sydney and whose lives intersect when they are allocated to a mothers' group at the local community health centre.  The novel's narrative shifts among the points of view of each of the six women in that first year of their life as new mothers.

Each woman has become a mother in the context of very different life experiences.  Ginie is an opinionated (and self righteous) career woman.  Cara is the diplomatic 'people' person.  Made comes from Indonesia and is trying to learn both English and a new way of life.  And then there's Miranda who outwardly leads a perfect life, but finds raising her young step son as well as her own new baby challening.  Suzie found herself a single mother when her partner left during the pregnancy, leaving her in a financial struggle and finding an unlikely ally in her ex's mother.  While the other women are challenged but not defeated by the new people who have forcefully entered their lives, Pippa is suffering both physically and emotionally after the birth of her daughter.

For the first two thirds of 'The Mothers' Group', life sees pretty predictable and straightforward.  The mothers grow in confidence with their parenting skills and they branch out to do different activities with each other - trips to a local cafe, then a night out and also a book club.  They become close friends and pitch in for each other when necessary.

Mothers' Day a year into their friendship becomes a shared family event for the six women.  They meet at a national park for a picnic with the babies and respective partners.  An unforeseen tragedy falls upon one of the women whilst others discover the horrible truth about their relationships.  The stress of trying to cope in this difficult time takes its toll on all the mothers and further troubles threaten to destabilize the solid bond the women have with each other.

There were times when I thought the six mothers were too predictable in the way their characters were developed.  I also found some of the realities of motherhood pretty bleak reading - at times it was more confronting than any pregnancy guide I've been reading.  Despite these points, 'The Mothers' Group' sensitively explores some of the big issues facing first time mothers in contemporary suburbia that are often hidden to the non mum community.  In a sense, the novel brings a mothers' group to the reader.  I'm not a mother yet and it will be intereseting to reflect on my opinion of this novel when I do become one.  Good fiction requires drama and strong characters and sometimes (I hope), real life doesn't have to follow suit.

I'd recommend 'The Mothers' Group' if you're looking for mummy chick lit (if such a genre exists) with a strong serve of Australia mixed in.  It's an easy read and has enough going on in the sub plots to keep you turning the pages.  Higgins writes well and brings a sense of reality to what could have been an over the top sequence of final events in the novel. 

If you have read 'The Mothers' Group', I'd love to know how you felt about it.  Did you feel your being (or not being) a mother affected the way you enaged with the novel?


  1. Hi :)
    I am part of a bookclub myself, and loving ir :)
    From Oslo have a great weekend

  2. I've read it. I can't say it was my favourite read of the year. It's realistic in terms of what day to day life is like as a Mum (for the most part) but I just found it too sad. And the characters aren't really representative - they are all extremes really. But I guess that makes for a more interesting novel.

    K xx


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