Thursday, 1 May 2014

DEAR THING by Julie Cohen, Reviewed by Tamsyn Murray

Claire and Ben and Romily have known each other since university. Claire and Ben are married, Romily and Ben are best friends, and Romily and Claire - well, they tolerate each other for the sake of Ben. Things might have gone on that way forever if Ben and Claire hadn't been desperate to have a baby and Romily hadn't offered to give them one...

On the surface, Dear Thing is about motherhood; one woman's need to have a baby of her own and another's well-intentioned offer to help, no matter what the personal cost. And certainly the subject of pregnancy is an integral part of the story: surrogacy, hormones, societal norms, stretch marks and ultrasounds all feature. But don't be fooled, this book is about so much more than that. It's about fatherhood, too, and marriage and family, about the secrets we keep and the lies we tell ourselves. It's about growing up and letting go and understanding our own parents better, about protecting ourselves and accepting failure. And most of all, Dear Thing is a book about love.

Every character is perfect and complete, from the protagonists down to Max, a boy in Claire's music class who engages her professional and maternal instincts. The details of Romily's work as an entomologist fit beautifully with her metamorphosis from Ben's friend into the mother of his child, a change that ripples out into every area of all their lives. And all the way through the story, we are subtly reminded that it isn't simply the act of giving birth that makes a woman a mother.

I knew that Dear Thing would make me cry, but it wasn't the most obvious places that moved me - Claire's despair at her body's failure or Romily's anguish as she battles her own demons - it was this paragraph, where Claire is at a concert, listening to some music:

When the mother theme came at last, she recognized it: slow and soft, warm and sweet, full of the smell of a baby's head, a cheek tilted against hers, the brush of eyelashes. The papery skin of her mother's hand, which had once been the most beautiful hand she had known.

Julie Cohen effortlessly captures the hardest part of parenthood; how we love and cherish and ultimately let our children go, just as our own parents did before us. It made me think when I read that last line, reminding me of my own children growing up now and of my mother, whose hand and face really were beautiful to me. In fact, I am still thinking about them now and I have a lump in my throat.

Dear Thing is more than a book about motherhood - I challenge you to read it and find out what it means to you.

Published by Black Swan, out in paperback 8th May 2014.

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