Cover Image: The Book of Mother

The Book of Mother

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Member Reviews

Whew.  This was quite the book.  So much was packed into its 224 pages.  If you have any triggers, this book is not for you.  The Book of Mother was dark and painfully real.  It showed life, and relationships, as they truly are.  The writing was incredible—lyrical and beautiful.  The book, told in stream of consciousness, is broken into three parts: 1) a girl’s memoir about her mother; 2) Maman’s history and what she endured and overcome. This section provided so much clarity to the first section and illuminated the differences between a child’s view of their parent and the parent’s reality; and, 3) the sisters learn that their Maman has died and they grieve.  The three parts were a unique way of telling Maman’s story.  

The story begins after Maman has had a breakdown and is hospitalized.  Her daughters pick up the pieces as best they can.  Violaine, the narrator, tells tidbits of history interwoven with present day happenings.  Then we go back in time and learn about Maman’s family, how she was raised, and who she became as she grew up.  Finally, after Maman passed away, her daughters have to figure out who they are without Maman.  While this was a very dark story, there was humor and light and it showed what real relationship are like—messy, complicated, and hard.  

This book was truly excellent.  A classic in the making as it strips away all of the fluff of fantasy and shows what relationships are really about.  Even when a person’s relationship with their parent(s) is not ideal, there is love and complexity that ties us to that parent.    

Thank you to NetGalley and Scribner for providing me with an ARC.

Trigger warnings: rape, alcoholism, abuse, dog killing, violence, drugs, addiction, child abuse.  You name it, it is probably in here.
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𝐓𝐇𝐄 𝐁𝐎𝐎𝐊 𝐎𝐅 𝐌𝐎𝐓𝐇𝐄𝐑 by debut author Violaine Huisman is a book in translation (originally in French) that is actually an “autobiographical novel.” It’s the true story of Huisman’s life with, and deep love for her mentally unstable mother, Catherine. It’s considered a novel because it includes Catherine’s thoughts and actions at times when the author was not there, thus the fiction element. ⁣
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I found the story something of a roller coaster, which might be appropriate for a book about a woman who lived her life in extremes. The first third of the book was more of a general overview from the author’s perspective and there I had trouble staying engaged. However, that changed in the second part where we really got to know Catherine from her childhood through her three marriages, including breakdowns and hospitalizations along the way. She was not an easy mother for the author or her sister, but they loved her fiercely no matter what state she was in. The third part of the book really focuses on that deep love of a daughter for her mother. It was touching.⁣
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I’d say that 𝘛𝘩𝘦 𝘉𝘰𝘰𝘬 𝘰𝘧 𝘔𝘰𝘵𝘩𝘦𝘳 is a book that’s ideal for when you have time to really dig in and peel back the layers of a complex woman and the daughters who adore her despite the havoc of their own lives. 3.5 stars
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Thanks to #scribnerbooks for this #giftedbook.
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4 stars  
  
A touching & torrential story of two girls & their glamorous, violent, mentally ill mother. Several difficult themes are covered, but the writing is beautiful & the narrative sensitively portrays the difficult situations.
 
[What I liked:]

•The narrative framework is really interesting. The first part is narrated by Catherine’s youngest daughter, Violaine, & is intimate & emotional, a desperate attempt to make sense of the extreme contradictions of her childhood, to reconcile her mother’s vibrancy & illness and fierce love & abuse.

Part II is told in 3rd person & follows Catherine’s POV, filling in gaps in the narrative in an almost detached fashion, giving us insight into moments that Violaine wasn’t aware of or couldn’t understand fully as a child. Despite the distance the 3rd person narration provides, this section gives a look into Catherine’s thought processes & decisions, her feelings about her losses & failures, & her motivations to keep on fighting to live.

Part III is brief, told by an adult Violaine about the circumstances of her mother’s death & funeral, & her & her sister’s grief. It ties the first two parts of the book together & gives some closure. Overall, I think the pacing, structure, & narration choices work well together.
 
•The sadness, pain, & confusion of trauma are relentlessly stared in the eye, yet the narrative doesn’t get bogged down in melodrama or tragedy for tragedy’s sake. This is a very realistic portrayal of living with someone, & of being someone, with serious mental illness. I could personally relate to both sides. 

•The writing is wonderful. This writer has a gift for prose, for putting thoughts & feelings into a moving cadence & precise word choices. 


[What I didn’t like as much:]

•Catherine is a hard character to like, & though she may not be the protagonist exactly, she is the central figure of the book. She’s vain, self-destructive, deeply selfish, & objectively a bad parent. She does have some redeeming moments, & it’s clear her daughters love her fiercely, but still she’s hard to stand sometimes. Although I suppose that is the point, how hard it is living with & loving someone that mentally ill.

CW: child abuse, r*pe, incest, child sex abuse, mental illness, suicide, infidelity, racism/anti-semitism, sexism, domestic violence, substance abuse 

[I received an ARC ebook copy from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Thank you for the book!]
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Although the narrator of this book is named Violaine, as is the author, it is a novel. (It says so on the cover.) Violaine’s mother, Catherine, is a manic-depressive Frenchwoman who lives a life without any regard to guardrails, either physical or social. Her life is, to put it mildly, chaotic; and it is presented in a “kaleidoscopic portrait”. [I saw that phrase in a review, but I cannot remember where that was. Sorry.] In addition, many of the events that are recounted about Catherine come through Catherine herself or other dubious sources. But as Violaine says, “The truth of a life is the fiction that sustains it.”

For the most part, Violaine and her sister are raised by Catherine. “For the most part” perhaps implies too much, but their mother was not as present as one might expect a mother to be, particularly when she is institutionalized. On the other hand, the impact that she had on the girls’ lives is singular, and they feel as close to her as any other person does to their mother.

There is genuine love within this family but sometimes it is hard to discern because of the utterly foreign forms it may take and the trauma (both internal and external) that is endured.

Note: Absolutely adults-only fare.
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Boy oh boy, I've never read 214 pages that pack such a punch! I loved this book for its heartbreakingly honest portrayal of being a child of a parent with mental illness,  it also shows the flip side of having mental illness and trying to parent at the same time, which is really rare in literature. 

The story takes place in three parts, the first is about the daughter and her image of her mother, the second is about the mother's life, and the third is the daughter coping with the aftermath of her mother's suicide. With realistic, brutally honest writing, I enjoyed every page of this turbulent story of a woman dealing with so much strife...What a true and finally decent portrayal.
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Being a mother myself is what was my driving interest in reading this book.  Many thanks to Scribner and NetGalley for making this title available for me to read and review.

The Book of Mother is the tale of a daughter's love for her mother.  It begins with a section devoted to the daughter's formative years, up to and after the pivotal point of her childhood, which was when her mother was put into a mental hospital for a mental breakdown after her third divorce. Part two of the book gives us the tale of the mother's difficult life, and part three is written after the child has left the home.

Our narrator is the daughter, who paints an unforgettable portrait of her mother.  If it were a real painting, there would be splashes of all sorts of colors over the canvas, dark and bright.  We read of her mother's love affair with the children's father, of her mother's love/hate relationship with life.  We read about how motherhood changed this mother completely, not all for the better.  If one thing is true of her mother and the tale, it's that everything was to extremes. It's an abstract painting with splashes covering all parts of the canvas, even the back.  The reader's heart will break for this mother's daughters, and in part two it will also break for the mother.  In the end it will break for them all together.

It's narrated honestly. One sees things through the daughter's eyes: how beautiful her mother was, how mercurial, how tempestuous, how true to self.  It's a tale that is at times heartwarming, at times heartbreaking, and at all times human. Not all readers will enjoy this depiction of a mother's life, for there are times it is as ugly as it is beautiful, as this mother suffers from a mental illness. Some readers will be quick to judge her actions.  This is what the second part of the story is for: allowing the reader to see how she herself came to be born and how her own childhood was. It's definitely a tale that paints a chaotic picture, with joy, lots of love, and some very dark times.

I personally thought it a breathtakingly beautiful story of one's mother. It gives this mother what she was always asking of her children: that they remember the fact she is a human being herself, and not just a mother, that she had aspirations and dreams of her own. Yet, even in doing so, it is made clear how much love there was for her.  I was moved to tears by the time I finished this story.  However, many will not enjoy the darker aspects of the book.  

I recommend to fans of literary fiction, but caution you to remember that there is a dark side to the tale.
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THE BOOK OF MOTHER is finely-crafted and I recommend it for fans of literary fiction. As you might guess from the description, the story is quite dark. I found it riveting and insightful, especially in terms of family dynamics.

Some other reviewers have noted an emotional distance. I happen to agree, which is the only reason I am not rating this novel 5 stars. I'm not sure if it's a product of the translation from French, but there is a brusque wooden-ness that seems jarring at first, especially given the emotional complexity of the narrative. However, I'm glad I kept reading.
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Wow. This book packs a punch. I didn't expect to be so moved by this complicated family story, but it is incredibly compelling.
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What a rush! This book is the perfect play on the Cratered Bombshell Mother narrative. Because while it opens on the torment from the mother, the real heart of the book is how she got there in the first place. The end section took too long. But still, this is a book I see myself returning to over and over again. Brilliant.
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Book Review for The Book of Mother
Full review for this title will be posted at: @cattleboobooks on Instagram!
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I rated THE BOOK OF MOTHER by Violaine Huisman a 3.5/5. 

In this novel, we see a unique dynamic between a mother who struggles with mental illness and her two young daughters. It was structured in three parts, each of them with a different style. The first section is about Violaine the young girl and her view of her mother, the second is a third person narration of the mother's life, and the third is Violene coping with her mother's suicide.

This book was an interesting read.  All narratives were fast paced but there was a emotional component that was missing for me. The narrator always seemed so matter of fact, I think the novel could have benefitted from a more emotionally invested narrator. This could, however, be a stylistic preference of mine. I did appreciate how Catherine didn't ever become a caricature or a stereotype, the narrator always respected her and treated her like a person.

I will be posting my review on September 28, per Scribner Publication's request that the coverage be posted no more than two weeks before the publication date.
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