It’s chilly and overcast this morning as I sit down to write this post, so my steaming cup of chai tea is a welcome treat. It’s Mother’s Day, and I happen to have a book and an audiobook that I finished last week that deal with themes of motherhood and children, which was an unplanned but happy coincidence.
Canadian author Shelley Wood’s novel, The Quintland Sisters, focuses on the first five years in the lives of Canada’s famous five, the Dionne Quintuplets, and is told from the point of view of seventeen-year-old nurse Emma Trimpany who helped care for them. On May 28, 1934, with the country gripped in the harsh realities of the Great Depression, five tiny babies were born to Oliva and Elzire Dionne two months prematurely at their farmhouse near Callander, Ontario. They were not expected to live for more than a few hours, but they all miraculously survived. After four months living with their family, they were made wards of the state for the next nine years under the Dionne Quintuplets’ Guardianship Act of 1935 (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dionne_quintuplets). During a time of poverty, war and strife, these five children brought considerable profit to the area and were treated as tourist attractions. This book takes the first five years of their lives and presents a detailed fictional account of their existence as described by Emma in her journal and letters, with newspaper articles and documents interspersed. Wood describes the Dafoe Nursery, which was built across from the Dionne family farmhouse, the strict schedules of waking, bathing, feeding, play, and family visits for the sisters, and the legal wranglings surrounding the promotion of such items as Karo Corn Syrup and Quaker Oats. Emma, who wanted to be an artist but became a nurse so she could stay with the quintuplets, having started out as just a housemaid who happened to be on the scene at the time of the birth, offers an insider’s view of the activities surrounding the children and their upbringing during their early years, and also her thoughts and insights into how this might be affecting them and whether it was all in their best interest. I don’t usually enjoy historical fiction, especially epistolary novels (novels told through diary entries or through a series of documents), but this book hooked me from the very first page. Emma’s narrative did not seem like diary entries, simply storytelling from her point of view. It reminded me of Eva Stachniak’s novel The Winter Palace, which was told from the point of view of Barbara, Imperial handmaid to Catherine the Great, a novel that managed to truly transport me to the time and place of the action. So, too, did The Quintland Sisters, although Wood left out much detail about the Depression and the imminent war. It was also a love story, one that the author resolves in a very interesting and unique way. All in all, this was a fabulous book, one that I will definitely put on my book club list for next year, and one that has piqued my interest in the Dionnes and has encouraged me to pick up that paperback I've had sitting on my shelf upstairs for years by Ellie Tesher to find out what happened to them after Emma’s account ends. This kind of fits into the “motherhood” theme, as the novel addresses family and children, and the rights of parents to have access to, and to exploit, their children.
And I finished listening to an audiobook by Clare Mackintosh last week, Let Me Lie, about mothers and motherhood, and what a mother would do to protect her children. Tom and Caroline Johnson committed suicide the previous year by jumping off a cliff. They did this in exactly the same manner, but seven months apart, leaving a grieving twenty-five year old daughter Anna to pick up the pieces. Now a new mother living in her family home with her partner and former therapist, Anna is just beginning to come to terms with her grief as the anniversary of her mother’s suicide approaches, when a card is delivered that calls into question everything she thought she knew. Convinced that it is merely a sick practical joke, she is almost ready to dismiss it when another incident occurs that cannot be ignored, and we the readers are sucked into a whorling downward spiral as bits and pieces of the truth are revealed, until the final shocking conclusion. I can’t tell you more than this as I don’t want to give away any of the details, as the best part of this novel is the building suspense and the sense of always not-quite-knowing what's going on. I don’t necessarily love Mackintosh’s books, but they are interesting and complex enough to keep me reading, well, actually listening, and this one didn’t disappoint. It certainly delved into themes of mothers, motherhood and family, and who, in the end, you can trust with your life.
That’s all for today. Happy Mother’s Day to all the wonderful women who make a difference in the lives of others every day!
Bye for now… Julie