Three months ago now I requested both this book and The Days of Abandonment by Elena Ferrante for Novellas is November. There is no sign of Days of Abandonment (but I have since learned from Laura that it’s still worth pursuing), and The Lost Daughter just showed up a week ago. I had a similar story for White Hunger, which ended up coming from Ottawa. The Lost Daughter came from Memorial University of Newfoundland (another first for me). This is one of the reasons libraries are so much fun.
Both White Hunger and The Lost Daughter were worth the wait. I still have one more to come from that same request binge back in October; The Collapse of Western Civilization. Any guesses on when it will show up?
I have been having a hard time figuring out how to write about The Lost Daughter without giving too much away. It’s a story about a middle-aged woman looking back on her life as a mother; trying to come to terms with the mistakes she made and the reasons she made them.
Leda didn’t want to be like her own mother, swore she wouldn’t be, but ended up struggling against it. Being a mother wasn’t what she had imagined it would be – it was a lot harder, and a lot more tiring. She fought against her desire to be her own person again, to finish her studies and start her career. Most women/mothers feel the same way, and we all look for ways to find that balance. Some women get a nanny and a job, some get a sitter and go to the gym, some start drinking too much, some have affairs, some read a lot of books and then blog about it. But some women fantasize about leaving their children altogether.
Leda has done this, and more. And now, years later, her grown daughters are in Canada with their father and she is on vacation. Instead of getting a lot of work done at the beach, she starts watching a young mother with her daughter, which causes her to think about her own years as a young mother. She becomes a little obsessed with this family and gets more involved than she should. (She ends up doing something a little surprising/interesting that I wanted to talk about here but decided not to give it away.) It all leads to her confession to them about being an ‘unnatural’ mother. After this confession, the family immediately backs away as though she had three heads.
I observed my daughters when they weren’t paying attention, I felt for them a complicated alternation of sympathy and antipathy.
Their troubles, their griefs, their conflicts returned to impose themselves, continuously, and I was bitter, I felt a sense of guilt. I was always, in some way, the origins of their sufferings, and the outlet.
I felt for the first time, like a fist in my chest, that I needed something else, but I felt uneasy saying it to myself, it seemed to me that such thoughts were not appropriate for my situation, for the ambitions of a reasonable and educated woman.
All her memories cause her both shame and remorse, yet her need to get away seemed inevitable, an unavoidable path.
How accepting are we, as a society, of women who are not naturally maternal? We have no problem accepting that many men are not ‘natural’ fathers, but when it comes to women we think there might be something inherently wrong with them.
Sometimes you have to escape in order not to die.
Love requires energy, I had none left.
Some would say that this might also be a book about mental illness/postpartum depression; a case of a mother who needed help but didn’t receive any, which caused her to act in an ‘unnatural’ way. But, why should we assume that all women who profoundly struggle with being a mother are suffering from an illness?
Then again, maybe she was.
Was she selfish? Was she ill? Was she a monster? A lot to think about for a short book.
The children stared at me. I felt their gazes longing to tame me, but more brilliant was the brightness of the life outside them, new colours, new bodies, new intelligence, a language to possess finally as if it were my true language, and nothing, nothing that seemed to me reconcilable with that domestic space from which they stared at me in expectation. Ah, to make them invisible, to no longer hear the demands of their flesh as commands more pressing, more powerful than those which came from mine.