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You Be Mother: The debut novel from the author of Sorrow and Bliss

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From the start, Phil’s snobbish, upper-crust allusions set out a view of the world drawn from a background of privilege – also marked by her accent. It is not until she arrives, with three-week-old Jude in tow, that Abi realises Stu is not quite ready to be a father after all. Phyllida Woolnough, Phil for short, was a delightful character and reminded me of someone I know in real life (though I can never reveal who). Author Meg Mason, 44, began her writing career as a journalist for the Financial Times, Vogue and the New Yorker. I used to love male narratives on screen as much as the next female viewer who had no choice, because that’s all there was, and to a degree still is, especially in the espionage and war dramas.

But reading about Abi brought back so many memories of that time, and I felt like giving her a huge bear hug of the sort I often craved myself when crying for my mother! The Woolnough family drama is largely just well-to-do spoiled-child tantrums, and I found it tedious. So when she falls pregnant by an Australian exchange student in London, she cannot pack up her old life in Croydon fast enough, to start all over in Sydney and make her own family. This is a story of mental illness reflected through the prism of an uproarious, big-hearted family comedy.This one in my mind had odd bits of engaging story but for the main part it just trundled along, with unlikeable characters, an unbelievable story and just a wait a bit, something will happen feel. I wanted to read Sorrow and Bliss, but having seen this was the authors first book, decided to read this first.

Having emigrated myself at an early age and raising my babies without the help of family, far away from my old life, I really related to Abi. A chancily engineered meeting with the neighbour Phil (short for Phyllida), a retired, well to-do, empty nester parent with her relationship issues with each far-flung offspring, and Abi is well on her parenting journey, picking up hints, experience, and learning to mum. I just managed to make it to the end (if I really didn't like it I wouldn't have) skipped large parts, which didn't effect the story for me. Much like the narrator of ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE Martha's voice is acerbic, witty, and raw. But regardless of the emotion it caused, it made me read non-stop, because it's one of those readings you will not want to put down.Settling in Cremorne, in a small flat owned by Stu’ parents, Abi soon finds that Stu may not be ready yet to play happy families as he continues to lead his bachelor life, leaving her and baby Jude alone for long periods of time whilst he studies and meets his mates at the pub until the early morning hours. Her work has since appeared in The Sunday Times UK, The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sunday Telegraph. Behind her in London is all that’s left of her family: her self-destructive mother and the depressing former council flat they shared. Guess what, Stu, getting pregnant was overwhelming for her too, but she had to become a mother immediately because she had no other choice; she didn’t get to delay parenthood until she felt ready.

Not the most compelling story, I was surprised Meg Mason also wrote Sorrow and Bliss (one of my favourites of last year), as the books are so very different in pace and style. I did wonder if I’d need to rush through this book to begin with but, by the final chapters, I was trying to drag it out and savoured every sentence. At first the need seems to come almost entirely from Abi's side - alone with her baby more than she should be, while Stu works at the local pub and continues his studies - but after a minor fall Phil comes to rely more and more on Abi for help and company.

They decide to make a go of it and Abi travels to Sydney with newborn Jude, where the small family is set up in Stu's parents' tiny investment property flat in Cremorne Point, next door to the Woolnough house. But recently, via Deborah Levy’s biographical trilogy, I came to what is not quite an essay collection, more just a set of reflections on life including motherhood, by the French novelist Marguerite Duras, and realised how necessary it is to see even a part of your own story on a page. She has written humour for Sunday STYLE magazine and The New Yorker's Daily Shouts and been a regular columnist for GQ and contributor to ELLE, marie claire and Vogue.

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