When is the best moment to have a child? Can you ever be ready to become a parent? And what does being a “good” parent actually mean? Jessie Greengrass unnamed narrator has to face these questions. Her husbands would like to have children, she is unsure. Her own childhood comes to her mind, her mother and grandmother, the way they treated her when she was a child, their complex family relationships and the fact that neither her mother not her grandmother is still alive. Yet, families and relationships are never easy, thus, Röntgen and Freud come to her mind as well as the beginnings of modern child birth.
Jessie Greengrass debut novel directly made it to the short list of the 2018 Women’s Prize for Fiction. It is an unexpected and uncommon combination of medical history, on the one hand, and a very personal reflection on the narrator’s own life and her feelings about motherhood. It starts with the narrator confronted with the essential question of becoming a mother or not when suddenly her rumination is interrupted by the report about Röntgen. Again and again, these two perspectives alternate which is interesting, but also difficult to follow since it often seems to lack a red thread. They are not isolated accounts, she cleverly combines the topics, e.g. her grandmother was a psychoanalyst like Freud, to give a reason for these interludes.
I can see why the novel made it to the Women’s Prize for Fiction’s short list. The topic tackles a core question of human beings and a deep wish we all share: knowing something for sure, being able to use medical precision for personal decisions and knowing that you do the right thing. Being able to look at something from a neutral and objective point of view, analysing and then making a decision – that’s what we often wish for, however, that’s not how life works.
Contradictory emotions, uncertainty – a lot of apparent opposites come together in the novel. Even though I found the narrator’s thoughts often easy to following and from a topical point of view most interesting, the novel as a whole did not completely convince me. I would have liked to stick with the narrator’s thoughts. Maybe it was all a bit too philosophical for my understanding.