Truths I never told you by Kelly Rimmer
Beth, a psychologist and a new mother after trying for a baby for years, is part of a loving family, one of four children brought up by their widowed father. Like all siblings they squabble and fight but they pull together in concern for their father; he has always been there for them but is now suffering from physical and mental decline. Beth has a devoted husband and an amazing mother-in-law. And now she has the baby she has always wanted. So why does she feel distressed and unhappy?
Beth involves herself in clearing out her father’s house after he moves to a rest home. Amidst the clutter she finds notes from Grace, her mother, who died in a car accident when she and her siblings were small … or so they have been told.
As Beth reads the notes we find that Grace suffered with the birth of each of her children, mentally rather than physically. Being a housewife with four young children and a husband who was away more often than not, and with no family support, Grace’s life was one of quiet desperation, of hanging on to her sanity. Another strand of the story is woven into the narrative by Grace’s bluestocking sister and the pieces of the story slot together to explain what happened to Grace. Her tragedy, as a woman trapped in the role of housewife and mother in the 1950s and suffering from post-natal depression, is at the core of the novel and is bookended by Beth’s struggles 38 years later with being a new mother. The similarities between mother and daughter’s situations and the contrast in their experiences is strongly drawn.
As Beth unravels the mystery of her mother’s life and death, she gains an understanding of herself. Of her mother. And of the family from which she came.
The dedication reads “for the women who carry infants in their arms as they battle illness in their minds”. The inside cover is peppered with endorsements like “heart-breaking but heart-warming”, “absorbing, emotional”, “intense” and even “keep tissues handy”. Women suffering post-natal depression is affecting subject matter and certain to arouse feelings of empathy. And Grace’s situation as a mother is heart-breaking. But as much as experiences were clearly articulated, I found myself standing back and viewing the novel with a sense of detachment. I was left with a feeling that the characters and story were significantly constructed to illustrate a perspective on motherhood and mental health.
However, this story is fluently and deftly written. Whether in the context of the 1950’s housewife era or in more recent times where there is a greater understanding of mental health issues this novel offers an insightful perspective on motherhood and the depression that can ensue. Becoming a mother is not always the rosy picture it is painted.
Reviewer: Clare Lyon