review by Maryom
Michele appears to be a woman who has everything - a successful career, two grown up children and a happy marriage - but cracks have started to form underneath the surface and her world's about to crumble.
Don't read my summary and expect a thriller! Meike Ziervogel's second novel is a quiet, intimate portrayal of a life falling apart as Michele is pulled in opposite directions by loyalty to her husband and mother. Things start in an idyllic seeming way - a cycle ride and an early morning swim shared by Michele and husband Jim but already there are signs that Jim expects life to be lived his way and that, now the children are independent, his wife's attention should be on him. Michele has other concerns and obligations though - ideally she'd concentrate her time and efforts on her work, an important deal is in the offing and as CEO she wants to be there and in charge .... but then there's her elderly mother, Clara, who increasingly needs to be looked after. Her sister Hilary would love to help out, so she says, but always finds a reason not to, while manoeuvring Michele into doing everything. A care home would be ideal but will Michele's conscience allow her to send her mother there? Where is the midst of these conflicting ties is there space for Michele herself?
As in Meike Ziervogel's debut novel Magda, the central relationship is that between mother and daughter; how it changes through the years, with the balance of dependence and help shifting between the two. Jim shares the idea that I feel is in the back of many couple's minds
that once the children have grown, then their time will be free to do
with as they please - a luxury cruise, golfing holidays in the Algarve
or, in Jim's case, downsizing to a remote cottage by the sea. Life isn't
that simple though, there are always obligations to be met and, as
parents age, children, once cared for become the carers themselves. Clara I felt to be just as much the victim of circumstances as her daughter - although terrified at the thought of being institutionalised in a home or hospital, living as a dependant in a converted basement was certainly not how she'd have chosen to spend her old age.
Alongside this core, it explores Michele's relationships with her self-centred, laid back husband and manipulative sister, and looks at the different roles we play at various stages of life - daughter, mother, sister, wife, artist, businesswoman; how they pull us in opposite directions, are sometimes impossible to combine, some having to be sacrificed for others and how ultimately they shape and define us, rather than us choosing and determining our own future.
It's a short book, just over 130 pages, but one that requires a little effort on behalf of the reader, in the form of some input and response. Don't sit back and expect everything to be laid out in plain sight - it's a little like watching a play; the characters' feelings and motivations have to be interpreted from their words and actions, and I suspect everyone will see things slightly differently, informed by their own feelings and experiences.
The structure is a little curious - two timelines, one of which charts a
week leading up to a decisive point in Michele and Jim's relationship; the other darting ahead into the future, a month, six months, a year, eighteen months, charting the more lasting effects- so the reader needs to retain track of both to fully appreciate he unfolding of events.
Clara's Daughter is an amazing book, packing so much into such a short space, and one that while telling a very specific story about two women raises matters that are of consequence to all of us. Best of all, it's a book that I expect to improve with further reading.
Maryom's review - 5 stars
Publisher - Salt Publishing
Genre - Adult literary fiction