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MotherKind by Jayne Anne Phillips - Book Review


Jayne Anne Phillips

Fiction-Net Rating 4 Star Rated Book

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Cover Story

Jayne Anne Phillips' brilliant new novel explores the spiritual education at the heart of that most fundamental transition - the child becoming the caretaker of the parent. In MotherKind, Kate - whose care for her terminally ill mother coincides with the birth of her first child in the early months of a young marriage - must, in a single year, come to terms with radiant beginnings and profound loss.

Phillips tells Kate's story in a delicately layered narrative in which the daily details of life resonate with import and meaning.

We enter the world of Kate's marriage, of babies and stepchildren, neighbours and friends. We watch as the tumult of Kate's everyday world is enveloped by the gradual vanishing of her mother. And as the woman who has been her best friend and mentor disappears, we see Kate deal with timeless, perhaps unanswerable, questions of love and death.

It is the triumph of MotherKind that Kate's complex experience of being - and losing - a mother is so luminously portrayed.

We Say

I have been waiting a long time for a book that would equal Jayne Anne Phillips' debut novel, Machine Dreams (first published in 1984). Unfortunately, MotherKind is not the one.

MotherKind does not have the same kind of scope or reach that Jayne Anne Phillips' first book had and nor does it have quite the same strength of characters. However, MotherKind is still wonderful and ambitious in its own way and I feel slightly cruel to begin on a negative point. Once I did manage to get over my disappointment that it wasn't going to be another Machine Dreams, I began to see more and more clearly just how good it actually is.

Jayne Anne Phillips is a true craftswoman when it comes to her writing. Words are truly her tools, which she uses skillfully to create something amazing. There is the sense that each word and every phrase is laboured over and nurtured carefully (which is exactly how it should be for any writer worth their advance!). This can make it quite tough going at times. But then, this book is not one for those that enjoy cosy, friendly stories and the odd airport paperback on the beach - this is the hard stuff. Both the subject matter and the style are uncompromisingly heavy and sad. That said, I am not suggesting that it is pretentious - it's not. It is about real life (which is frequently mundane) and real people. Tthe characters are totally convincing.

MotherKind is not the easiest book to read but for anyone who aspires to write, it is a fine example of skilled writing. As a reader, it is a story that proves to be very moving and full of truth.

Review by: Rachel Taylor

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