Thursday 21 September 2017

Vivid portrait of bitter mother-daughter relationship threatens the monster trope

Fiction: Colours Other Than Blue Anthony Glavin, Ward River Press,€16.99

Writer Anthony Glavin
Writer Anthony Glavin
Colours Other Than Blue by Anthony Glavin

Anne Cunningham

Guilty mothers have always made for a good story. From Euripides' Medea to Hamlet's mother Gertrude to Anne Enright's Rosaleen Madigan, the matriarchal monster is a familiar figure. Hopelessly inadequate mothers figure too, like Lionel Shriver's narrator in We Need to Talk About Kevin, or Nick Hornby's suicidal but loving mum in About A Boy.

But inadequate and guilt-ridden adult daughters are not so much explored in fiction - which is why Colours Other Than Blue makes for interesting reading.

Maeve Maguire is Bostonian-Irish, living in Dublin in the late 1980s, a single mother of a teenage daughter and a matron in the nearby nursing home.

After her elderly and much-loved father's death in Boston, Maeve finds it impossibly difficult to simply carry on. Her friend suggests a therapist, Sister Una, and Maeve reluctantly agrees.

Sister Una suggests that Maeve might in fact be missing her mother more than her father, although she died three years previously.

But Maeve's relationship with her mother was always a fraught affair, strewn with eggshells to be trodden on but not broken, and Maeve balks at returning to the bad old days of her childhood.

Sister Una suggests that Maeve keep a journal for the duration of her therapy sessions and this journal provides the stuff of Maeve's story.

Over a period of nine months (now is that symbolic or what?) Maeve explores the nature of her fractious relationship with her mother - giving us a kind of biography of an ordinary life lived in the shadow of a mother who didn't, and often couldn't, cut the mustard.

Fleeing Boston when her own daughter was just a baby, Maeve has since been haunted by the feeling that she might have done more, helped more, been a more devoteddaughter.

If you're looking for momentous epiphanies, you won't find any here. It's a book full of quiet, faltering ghosts, but also a surprisingly entertaining read, the nursing home residents providing many of the lighter moments.

Glavin has borne the mantle of daughter, rather than son, with considerable flair and his Boston of the 1950s and 1960s is as vivid within the pages as his Dublin of the 1980s.

So, too - maybe more importantly - is the ever-present challenge of being a single mother to an only child.

Maeve's determination to ensure that history will not repeat itself with her daughter forces her to make some sense of history, particularly her own.

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