Book Reviews of ‘Mothers’ Group’ by Fiona Higgins and ‘The Happiness Show’ by Catherine Deveny
I’ve been away from the blog for a while and so I thought I’d ease myself back into it by putting up a couple of book reviews suitable as holiday reads. I decided to present my thoughts on these novels together because they have several themes in common. Specifically themes surrounding motherhood, relationships and a woman’s sense of identity as she ages and experiences life in the twenty-first century in Australia. I make them sound so serious, but they were relatively light reads.
Unsurprisingly ‘Mothers’ Group’ has a story that centres around a group of women brought together upon the birth of their first child. Such meeting groups are commonly organised by local councils or other community groups in Australia. The intention is for the women to find support and friendship through the common experience of becoming a new mother. This is indeed what happens in the story presented. Many mothers will be able to relate to the issues faced by the characters of the novel and strangely, in some ways this was a downfall of the novel, because there was nothing new. Even people who have never experienced caring for a new baby are likely to have a good appreciation of the issues relating to it through their friends and media, like post-natal depression, pressure placed on marriages and returning to work. While there were some dramatic scenes that were by way of the subject matter moving, they were not presented in a way that was creative nor especially thoughtful. Personally, I found this aspect disappointing. However this is not always what we are after when we read a book and overall I thought the style of writing very easy to read and the pace was good.
The format of ‘Mothers’ Group’ is probably what sets it apart most. Each chapter is written from the point of view of the different mothers of the group. This format allows you to view the same events from different characters points of view and gives you insight into each of the characters and the specific issues they face. By choosing this format I think they author managed to heighten the intrigue and keep the up the pace of the novel, so I never felt like the story dragged too much. Sometimes I thought that it made it more difficult to become drawn into the story through the characters, because you never got to know any well enough and that made the writing less moving. I enjoy character-driven writing, so perhaps this aspect is more particular to me.
In contrast, “The Happiness Show” is written from the point of view of the main protagonist Lizzie Quealy, a mother and partner with a career in comedy. I did find myself drawn into the story through the character, even though I often didn’t share her point of view. The writing style was very easy to read, as with ‘Mothers’ Group.’ The pace of the novel was also good, although it did feel like the ending was a bit jolted. For me it read like romance novel, with a ‘will-they-won’t-they?’ excitement running through it. And that is essentially the story with Lizzie’s old flame, whom she meet as a young traveller, reappearing in her current life.
My gripe with this book is similar to the one I had with ‘Mothers’ Group,’ what’s the new part? ‘The Happiness Show’ was presented as a modern, sexy and racy exploration of relationships and their rules, but I didn’t find that it was. The depth of the exploration in the novel didn’t go much beyond a dinner party conversation after a few bottles of wine. The author did not offer a new insight into the deep emotions that people feel in a long term relationship and the complexity of those emotions was never properly grappled with. Admittedly, it was artfully dodged with humour or by distracting with shock tactics and that was fun, but the lack of depth was disappointing. Sometimes it felt the author was trying to justify breaking outside social norms, which was interesting, but it would have been more satisfying if the author had given a better sense of the main character examining and defining her personal values as well.
You may think from reading these book reviews that I hated these books, but I didn’t. I felt the pace and style were good for each book and would be well-suited to a holiday read. It’s great that stories about modern Australian women are being published and I really enjoyed being able to read these types of stories and relate to many aspects of them. I’m just waiting to find the one that rocks my world. The book that I think will poetically capture the situation and sentiment of living as a woman in this era in this country. So if you have a candidate, please let me know.