Title: The Mothers
Author: Genevieve Gannon
Published: January 7th 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 5 stars
What if you gave birth to someone else’s child? A gripping family drama inspired by a real-life case of an IVF laboratory mix-up.
What if the baby you gave birth to belonged to someone else?
Grace and Dan Arden are in their forties and have been on the IVF treadmill since the day they got married. Six attempts have yielded no results and with each failure a little piece of their hope dies.
Priya Laghari and her husband Nick Archer are being treated at the same fertility clinic, and while they don’t face the same time pressure as the Ardens, the younger couple have their own problems.
Priya is booked for her next IVF cycle the same day that Grace goes in for her final, last-chance embryo transfer. Two weeks later, both women get their results.
A year on, angry and heartbroken, one of the women learns her embryo was implanted in the other’s uterus and must make a devastating choice: live a childless life knowing her son is being raised by strangers or seek custody of a baby who has been nurtured and loved by another couple.
The Mothers is penned by award winning Australian journalist Genevieve Gannon, who has published four novels. The Mothers is Gannon’s latest piece of topical contemporary fiction. This impassioned novel looks at the agony and ecstasy of conception, pregnancy, birth, parenthood and motherhood. It is a devastating, heartbreaking and highly relevant. It will likely strike a chord with many readers.
Questions of birth and belonging circulate around The Mothers, a 2020 Allen and Unwin publication. It introduces two couples, pertinent to this weighty story. For the first couple, Dan and Grace Arden, the clock is ticking for them in the baby stakes. Grace is over forty and with half a dozen IVF cycles, each resulting in failure, the future looks grim for this couple. The other couple in this compelling tale are Priya Laghari and Nick Archer. This couple are also seeking IVF treatment at the same clinic as the Ardens to start a family, but they are also plagued by relationship issues. In a horrible twist of fate, a terrible mistake is made the day Grace and Priya enter the doors of the fertility clinic, hoping to walk out with a successful transfer. The weeks and months that follow this fateful day brings about joy, sadness, despair, confusion and anger. A choice must be made about a young child’s life, which will have a devastating impact one set of parents, while complete relief for another. The Mothers treads the tricky minefield of choices, mistakes, nature, nurture and biology.
What a slippery slope The Mothers presents! This is my first experience of the writing of Genevieve Gannon, but I do hope to explore her previous novels and upcoming work. I was absolutely drawn into this novel from page one. It was so riveting that everything was put aside for this one. No housework, dinner or sleep required! I turned this one over in just a couple of sittings, it is the type of book that lends itself to short burst reading episodes, you will be unable to ignore it!
The Mothers takes on the very difficult and emotional topic of conception via IVF. Fortunately, I have not had to experience this first hand, but as a mother I found the various situations faced by the couples and the doctors in this novel incredibly polarising and heartbreaking. Gannon negotiates a whole host of emotionally fraught scenarios, from infertility, conception, failed IVF attempts, loss, pregnancy, birth, infidelity, separation, motherhood, adoption and careers. It is a full and involving novel which Gannon takes in her stride, producing a novel of a very high standard. Gannon’s approach to The Mothers enables the reader to really settle themselves in the shoes of the characters in this book, it can be uncomfortable at times, but I valued the issues of contention raised in this book. The Mothers is a book that will have you in a moral quandary, as plenty of ethical and social dilemmas are raised. I tended to side with one couple over the other, but Gannon provides a balanced point of view in delivering both sides of this complex issue.
Gannon presents the feelings and reactions of all her protagonists very clearly. I was able to get a good feel for their hopes, fears, flaws and assets. By presenting the reader with two different couples to understand, we develop a firm insight into the difficult process of IVF and the subsequent mix up that changes the lives of these people forever. Gannon offsets this with an essential supporting perspective of one of the doctors from the fertility clinic. Doctor Ashley inserts a vital professional and medical slant to this complex case. I really admired Ashley by the close of the novel, she definitely works to redeem herself by the close of the story.
Throughout the book what concerned me was the social construction of the terms ‘motherhood’, ‘parenthood’ and ultimately who should be called a ‘mother’. Is it down to biology, genetics or birth? Is a mother someone who isn’t related by blood, but a figure who nurtured you from birth? What a moral quandary!
‘Who cares about the colour of his skin. You gave birth to him. That’s the definition of a mother.’
The preceding court case a year after the young child’s birth throws up all sorts of difficult decisions. We learn that this case is in a no man’s land situation. There is an absence of a system of law and legislation around a case of this nature. I really felt for the judge involved, what a hard task.
‘It is hard to imagine a question more difficult than the one we face today. Before us, we have the case of one baby and two mothers, each with a connection and potential claim to the child. Each with a fierce, true love for the boy. So, how do we decide?’
The decision is agonising and unfair, but no one really is to gain from this unfortunate medical mistake. Either way, you will be changed by this novel and if you are like me, you will be immediately reaching out to someone to discuss this challenging case.
The Mothers is an attentive novel, that accurately captures the sense of longing and desperation experienced in the quest to become a mother. It is agonising, penetrating and informative, appealing to your heart at all times. Read this one if you value high quality and relevant contemporary fiction. The Mothers is definitely an early contender for book of the year for me.
The Mothers by Genevieve Gannon was published on 7th January 2020 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Mothers, Genevieve Gannon, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Allen & Unwin for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
The Mothers is book #3 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge