Hearing someone’s thoughts for pages at a time can start to feel claustrophobic – a whole book that dwells almost entirely on the narrator’s issues, insecurities, questions, anxieties. None of which lend themselves to easy answers. It can feel overwhelming (not to mention self-indulgent). At one point I was questioning my own decision to have kids!
On the other hand, I think a lot of people have these same questions and anxieties, and the thinking in this book is probably something many can relate to.
Another reason this book might not be for everyone is that the main focus is centered around the narrator’s indecision about having children. Not everyone will be interested in reading about this, but I do think there is a wider audience than one might think. I have children, but still found some of her ideas on the subject thought-provoking.
The egoism of childbearing is like the egoism of colonizing a country – both carry the wish of imprinting yourself on the world, and making it over with your values, and in your image. How assaulted I feel when I hear that a person has had three children, four, five, more… It feels greedy, overbearing and rude – an arrogant spreading of those selves.
This one from Miles (the narrator’s partner), I found amusing…
Of course raising children is a lot of work, but I don’t see why it’s supposed to be so virtuous to do work that you created for yourself out of purely your own self-interest. It’s like someone who digs a big hole in the middle of a busy intersection, and then starts filling it up again, and proclaims: Filling up this hole is the most important thing in the world I could be doing right now.
I like to know how other people think. Maybe they have something to say I hadn’t thought of before. I might not agree with everything said, but many times I felt I could relate to her ideas and her indecision. Indecision is awful, no matter what you’re undecided about. (Although I don’t recommend making major life decisions based on coin tossing.)
I crave a finish line, just to stop thinking about this.
I thought the worst thing in the world would be to be unhappy, but not to know it. As I grew older, I compulsively checked myself for signs that I was unhappy. Then I grew unhappy, too.
One thing I thought particularly clever was how she explored the stigma of taking medication for anxiety/depression by having her character opposed to the idea. And then describing the wonder of life once the fear had been taken away. Once you’re free from dwelling on your own fears, life opens up. How would the book have been different if she had been on medication from the beginning?
This is me returning. This is me coming back from an interior I did not know was so intense. I didn’t realize I had been so separate from the world.
At first, the title “Motherhood” doesn’t seem to quite fit the book. But once I got to the end, I realized it made more sense than I thought. The narrator may not be a mother herself, but she spends a lot of time contemplating it, examining it, and thinking about her relationship with her own mother (and her mother’s with her grandmother).
The whole world needs to be mothered.
The subject matter or the structure of the novel may be up for debate, depending on your tastes and interests, but I think there is value in the author’s examination of society’s view of childless women (or women in general). The pressure on women to have children is still alive and well. We should not still be in this place – where a woman’s greatest value is her reproductive potential.
It seemed to me like all my worrying about not being a mother came down to this history – this implication that a woman is not an end in herself. She is a means to a man, who will grow up to be an end in himself, and do something in the world. While a woman is a passageway through which a man might come.
So, I find that I’m in the “like it” camp. At times, I felt I needed a break from being inside the narrator’s head, but finishing the book paid off. Once I got to the end, I realized how clever it is.
In the end, it all boils down to this…
Living one way is not a criticism of every other way to live.
Kim at Reading Matters: “There’s some thought-provoking analysis on what it is to lead a creative life — in this case, as a writer — and whether having children lessens that ability or enriches it.”
Marcie at Buried in Print: “Her reflection on whether to have a child with her partner is less about a decision and more about the ideas and possibilities which swirl around the question itself: ideas about inheritance and creativity, acceptance and yearning, belonging and loneliness, and seemingly endless questions about all this and more.”
The New Yorker: ““Motherhood” is a novel, or so its publisher claims, though even that loose and accommodating category doesn’t convey the weird originality of this sometimes exasperating, sometimes illuminating work. Heti’s narrator, who seems all but indistinguishable from Heti herself, calls it, at various points, “a book to prevent future tears,” “a prophylactic,” “a written defence,” and “a wrestling place.””
The Guardian: “She is asking what her book can count for, and the answer is a lot. It’s hard to do justice to its complexity. This is less a book than a tapestry – a finely wrought work of delicate art. Is it worth as much as a child? Is it worth less? Or more? “The childless and the mothers are equivalent,” the narrator learns. “A person who can’t understand why someone doesn’t want children only has to locate their feelings for children, and imagine that desire directed somewhere else – to a life that is just as filled with hope, purpose, futurity and care.”“