The Drowning Lesson, by Jane Shemilt

When her husband, Adam, takes up a research opportunity in Botswana, Emma Jordan decides to accompany him. They leave their London home and bring along their young children, Alice, Zoë and Sam. In their new home in Botswana, everything seems to be going just fine until Emma comes home one day to find that the cot that held her infant son, Sam, is empty. Subsequently, Emma and her family experience frustration and despair as they carry out the search for their long-awaited son.

The story takes place between the years 2013-2016 and shifts between London and Botswana, between present tense and past tense. Through Emma’s point of view, Shemilt expresses the challenges of being a working mother. Emma struggles to maintain a balance between marriage, motherhood and her career as a medical researcher. After her son disappears in Botswana, she progressively learns to treasure her role as a mother. At the beginning of the novel, we notice that Adam is clearly at the summit of his research career, whereas Emma works during the day and steals slivers of time for her research. For this reason, I found Emma’s strength admirable and it reminded me of remarkable women like Toni Morrison and Jane Hawking, both incredible academics, authors and devoted mothers.

Shemilt, an author and GP based in the UK, writes with knowledge and emotion, bringing together the worlds of the clinic and the home. Moreover, she brings new perspective to the table through the eyes of a character from a first world country. In Botswana, Emma witnesses first-hand the gruelling reality of many third world nations. HIV and child maladies ravage this poverty-stricken country, leading many to the orphanage and to the grave. In sum, this novel is a celebration of family and motherhood as much as it is a gripping story of pain, loss and human survival.

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TITLE: The Drowning Lesson
AUTHOR(S): Jane Shemilt
PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House
RRP: $37.00
ISBN: 9781405915311

Azariah Alfante Azariah is an Auckland-based writer, book reviewer and doctoral candidate who is deeply interested in all things culture, politics and history. She enjoys studying and reading in various Indo-European languages and delving into medieval epics, Baroque and Romantic poetry, 19th century novels, historical and contemporary fiction, fantasy and short stories.

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