Lead Review

  • Book: The Good Mother
  • Location: Dublin
  • Author: Sinead Moriarty

Review Author: tripfiction



This is not an easy read; it’s troubling and heart-breaking in equal measure and yet it’s quite un-put-down-able. Be prepared to get through a lot of tissues.

Kate, the good mother of the title, has been abandoned by her husband, Nick, who has gone off to live with his young girlfriend and new baby. Kate and her three children have to leave the family home, since they can no longer afford to live there, and move back in with Kate’s dad in the Village Café. Conditions aren’t ideal and her daughter Jess is forced to share a room with her youngest, Bobby. Kate’s oldest child, Luke, is studying for his Leaving Cert and is so angry with his father that he’s in danger of wrecking his future. Bobby is a troubled soul, who doesn’t even have any good times with his father to look back on and has retreated into obsessional and infuriating fascination with facts to compensate. Nick, never the best of fathers when he was with the family, has become even more useless now he’s gone and continually lets the children down, on top of which his new partner, Jenny, is struggling with the baby and needs Nick constantly by her side. Kate would like to do nothing more than crawl under the duvet and give in to grief, but she can’t because she has her children to support and she is, first and foremost, a good mother. Moving back in with George, her father, is something of a saving grace for this little family, as he is able to fill some of the gaps left by Nick, but just as it looks as though life might be looking up for Kate, her darling daughter Jess is diagnosed with leukaemia.

Tragic enough for you? Well, hang fire, it’s going to get a whole lot worse. Now, if you’re thinking that this novel sounds too depressing to be broached in these dark January days, take heart. For this is a skilful piece of writing by a very experienced author, who knows that you’ve got to balance the gloom with some lighter moments and this is done brilliantly. The Good Mother is set in Dublin, but there’s little sense of the physical place; instead Moriarty gives us a host of Dublin characters that convey the atmosphere perfectly. Luke’s girlfriend, Piper, comes from a colourful family and the scenes where we see her father, Seamus, a typical middle-aged Dublin man trying to cope with his wife and five daughters, as they discuss intimate issues to do with the female body, make you laugh out loud and provide a very necessary counterpoint to the sadness of the main story. So, too, the delightful character, Natalie, the French waitress, who has some wonderful comments to make on the Irish male in general.

Moriarty has done her research well and explores the world of cancer and cancer care confidently. She clearly understands children too and the scenes where Jess and her friend, Larry, another sufferer, discuss their illness and the future are particularly convincing.

This is a courageous and thought-provoking piece of writing and few writers, I think, would dare to wander into the territory that Moriarty explores here with great candour. In an odd way, too, it is also up-lifting for there is a wonderful sense of movement in the novel. As you focus on the story of Jess, you lose sight of Nick and the children and, when the main story has played out and the reader is free to look around again, you find that things have moved on too and the relationship between father and children has improved. Time heals and hope returns.

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