This debut novel considers the intrinsic intimacy and distance between mother and daughter, from the perspective of a narrator who is both, as well as the struggle to clearly see one another and oneself.
A woman, pregnant with her second child, gazes out a window at her firstborn, a little girl, playing in the garden, and contemplates the deep sense of loss that accompanies her daughter's growth. “The weight of her body when I lift her takes me by surprise, its unfamiliarity a reiteration of the distance between us,” Greengrass’ narrator muses. “She used to clamber over me, her legs around my waist, her arms around my neck, as though I were furniture or an extension of herself, unthought-of or intimately known. Now she stands apart and I must reach for her, on each occasion a little further until it seems her progress towards adulthood is a kind of disappearing and that I know her less and less the more she becomes herself.” Juxtaposed against the woman’s meditation on motherhood is her loss of her own mother, some years before, when the narrator was 21 and “at that turning spot between adolescence and adulthood,” a death she continues to mourn and mull as the “defining event in [her] life,” fracturing it in two. She reflects, too, on her maternal grandmother, a psychoanalyst with whom she spent her childhood summers, absorbing her disciplined pursuit of self-knowledge. Interspersed between the narrator’s personal reflections are the stories of scientists who quite literally exposed mysteries that lay within human beings: the man who discovered the X-ray; the surgical team whose work, in the mid-18th century, shed new light on the anatomy of the pregnant female body; Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, and his daughter, Anna. Unflinchingly focused on life and death, love and loss, this book is not light reading. And while it has been labeled a novel, it is less a story—with a single dramatic arc and resolution—than it is a densely packed collection of clearly articulated insights on the struggle to bridge the gaps between ourselves and those to whom we yearn to be close, our efforts to define and take full measure of ourselves. It is novel as excavation.
Greengrass digs deep below the surface to explore the human condition and presents the reader with unearthed truths to ponder and pocket.