Thursday, June 4, 2015

Dear Mother

After having read Bring up the bodies, I could not wait to get my hand on another novel written by Hilary Mantel. Earlier this year, I had placed an order for her debut novel with  a local independent bookstore and was glad that my copy of  Every day is Mother’s day arrived in May. The timing  was  perfect in that Mother’s Day was celebrated a couple of weeks before  and I  had just posted an essay about how some men might not be too thrilled with the idea of parenting, as described by  John O’Farell through the sentiments expressed by the protagonist, Michael Adams who live a double life in The Best a Man Can Get , a satire written by O’Farell.

Similarly the mothers in the debut novel by Hilary Mantel do not seem to  cope well with their parenting jobs either. In Every day is Mother’s day, Evelyn Axon is a medium by trade and her daughter, Muriel is a half-wit by nature but she is devious. Young and inexperienced social worker, Isabel Field meet Colin Sidney in a creative class and start an affair that is doomed from the start as Colin is married to Sylvia who is now expecting their fourth child. Evelyn and Muriel live next door to Colin’s sister, Florence. Colin and his wife, Sylvia do not seem to be able to  manage their three kids well. Colin habitually enroll  in courses and classes after work  to get away from his wife , Sylvia who has grown into a highly strung lady. Poor Sylvia.

Mantel writes,
Colin moved and took her by the arm. A corner of the vegetable rack caught him painfully on the shin.

“ This is what I stay for,” he said.” They’re your children, you wanted them. Can’t you manage better than this ? Do you realize this is what I stay for?”

“Stay?” Sylvia gaped. “And where are you planning to go? What are you talking about ? Who else in the name of God would want you?” Her mouth quivered like Karen’s , in disbelief, and suddenly tears plopped out of her pale blue eyes and ran down onto her housecoat, Christmas or no Christmas, the first in years.

Both Colin and Sylvia have been invited to dinner and at the last minute, their baby- sitter has decided not to turn up as her grandpa is visiting and when Colin tries to persuade her about earning her pocket money, she responds with this:
Well, it’s only one fifty, isn’t it, and if Grandad sees me he gives me a fiver.

Here is part of the exchange between Colin and Sylvia when they have to figure out who they can entrust  their children with as they are due at their dinner host’s place in forty-five minutes.
Mantel writes ,
You phone her,” Colin said. “ You got us into this mess.”
“I’d like to know why it’s always my problem to fix up a babysitter. You always leave it to me and then you criticize. It’s you that wants to go this dinner, not me.”

“ All right,” Colin said, “all right. Then I’ll just phone up Frank and say we can’t make it, shall I ? Frank goes to a lot of trouble over his dinner parties. He’s very interested in cooking and he goes to a lot of trouble, trying to select the right guests.”

“ And I go to trouble every night of the week. You don’t think about that.”

In Every Day is Mother’s Day, two stories run parallel and the characters  are intertwined. A horrible secret lurks in the darkness of the Axon household as Isabel the social worker feels duty bound to investigate, the result is  terrifying and at the same time hilarious. Mantel is a very good story teller and you can  visualize  the characters and the surroundings as you read all the descriptions  through her prose.
‘Click, click, click, said the mock-cros. They were Mrs Sidney’s shoes. She passed without mishap along the Avenue, over that flagstone with its wickedly raised edge where Mr Tillotson had tripped last winter and sustained his fracture; they had petitioned the council. Mrs Sidney's good legs, the legs of a woman of twenty-five, moved like scissors down the street. Her face was white and tired, her scarlet lips spoke of an effort at gaiety. She had carried the colour over the line of her thin lips into a curvaceous bow; she had once red in a magazine that this could be done.’

I will have to get the next novel Vacant Possession by Hilary Mantel  as the story continues with the same characters.

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