An affair holds the key to renewal, in an unsatisfying follow-up to Hannah’s Gift (2002).
Previously, the best-selling Housden told the harrowing story of her three-year-old daughter’s death. Now, in a sequel of sorts, she chronicles the next season in her own journey as mother, wife and woman. After Hannah died, Housden and her husband, Claude, had another child, but their marriage was on the rocks. Claude stopped wearing his wedding ring, and Housden suspected he’d had a fling while on a ten-day business trip. Craving time alone, she takes a retreat at a hermitage. “I could not shake the feeling,” she recalls, “that I was here to meet someone.” That someone is Roger, a dashing English author, with whom Housden has an affair. The affair “gently” opens her heart, “petal by petal,” and she returns home to tell Claude she wants a divorce. The two determine that he should take primary custody—hence the subtitle’s “different kind of mother.” Eventually, Housden marries Roger, and together they settle in as the non-custodial caregivers of her three children. Housden fears she’ll be judged—what kind of mother willingly gives up custody of her kids? But the memoir’s problems don’t stem from Housden’s presentation of her parenting. The few sections devoted to the mundanities of parenting are engaging. Indeed, one might wish Housden had spent more time detailing the nitty-gritty of non-custodial parenting. The trouble comes instead from Housden’s description of her affair and divorce. Her blasé acceptance of adultery, together with the suggestion that her affair was the transformative event that allowed her to discover her true self, rankles. The tone is self-congratulatory, and Housden’s efforts at profundity fall flat: “Safe. . . was someone else’s idea of a life, not mine.”
Likely to score well with readers hungry for 1980s-style self-help ruminations. But those who want something with more bite—and self-criticism—will have to look elsewhere.