4x4th Estate: Mothers

4x4A somewhat subversive take on Mother’s Day, brought to you by us at 4th Estate.



Every Day is Mother’s Day by Hilary Mantel


Hilary Mantel’s first published novel could perhaps be read as a cautionary tale, for mothers to beware their children. And as for the children, it’s a reminder that the maternal influence can be hard to escape – every day is mother’s day indeed. Lumpish Muriel Axon believes that her mother can control her thoughts, but Mrs Axon is equally tormented by the antics of the spirit world, never once suspecting that their pranks have a rather more corporeal origin. There is a bleakly comic aspect to the relationship of this blighted pair, but as they retreat further into a self-imposed exile, events take a shocking turn.

Idiopathy by Sam Byers

IdiopathyAwful mothers are abundant in Idiopathy; from the well-meaning overbearing kind to the chain-smoking, wine-drinking variety. None are quite so awful as Helen Coverley, aka Mother Courage, self-styled parenting guru and author of Mother Courage: One Woman’s Battle Against Maternal Blame. When your son is hospitalised by a severe mental breakdown the obvious thing to do is package up his horrific experience and share it with the world in the form of a book, internet support group and very public television appearances. Well, it is if you’re Mother Courage.

 The Grandmothers by Doris Lessing

The GrandmothersAnne Fontaine’s film Two Mothers stars Robin Wright and Naomi Watts in a tale of unconventional desire has been adapted from Doris Lessing’s spectacular short novel, The Grandmothers. It offers a dark and provocative take on the mother’s day theme, as childhood friends Lil and Roz fall for each other’s sons, and become entangled in an quest for self-fulfilment that threatens to unhinge everything. Lessing is adept at rubbing away at the veneer of middle-class morality and convention, exposing the whorls and cracks beneath. You can watch the trailer here.

Blue Nights by Joan Didion

Blue NightsBlue Nights must be understood in the context of the book that preceded it, The Year of Magical Thinking, in which Didion relates the death of her husband and her subsequent contemplations on death and illness. If Magical Thinking presented Didion as wife, in Blue Nights she turns the focus onto herself as a mother, describing how the death of her husband was followed by the death of her adopted daughter, Quintana Roo. Didion looks back on moments in Quintana’s life and asks candid questions about the relationship she had with her daughter, how well she knew her, and the bravest and most troubling question of all, Was I a good mother?

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