Stories within stories: The books mentioned in My Mother’s Secret

I’m delighted to welcome Tasha Locke to my blog this week. Tasha graduated from Bristol University this year with a degree in English Literature. I met Tasha through my role as a Role Literary Fund Fellow at Bristol University. Her insight into literature prompted me to ask her if she’d write the Book Club questions (My Mother’s Secret Book Club Questions) for you. There are a number of  novels mentioned in My Mother’s Secret, mostly by one of the main characters, bookish teenager, Stella Taylor, who is in a Book Club at school.  Stella is obsessed with Jane Eyre, but it’s Henry James’ The Golden Bowl that runs like a leitmotif through my thriller… Over to Tasha.

 

The novels mentioned in My Mother’s Secret provide layers for both the characters and the plot. These novels all present love in an unconventional, often forbidden, light. The debates on these novels in Stella’s book club get us to think about the complexities and themes of My Mother’s Secret. 

Introducing the theme of adultery to My Mother’s Secret, Stella’s book club first read The Golden Bowl by Henry James. The group can’t agree whether the book is about love, sex, or betrayal. Their book club debate invites us to reconsider our own opinions about betrayal and deception in relationships, which becomes increasingly important as the story of My Mother’s Secret goes on. 

The bowl from The Golden Bowl is also symbolic in My Mother’s Secret. In James’ novel Maggie Verver is about to get married and is gifted a golden bowl by her best friend and fiancé (who happen to be lovers) that has a crack in it. The symbolic crack in James’ The Golden Bowl mirrors the secret in My Mother’s Secret – but not just Emma Taylor’s, the mother and main character in the novel. It is not until the final twist of My Mother’s Secret that we realise the significance of Stella’s earlier statement: ‘the only person I know who’s read it is my dad.’

Another novel mentioned in My Mother’s Secret is Jane Eyre. My Mother’s Secret opens with a quote from Jane Eyre and Bronte’s gothic setting of Thornfield Hall resembles Tyntesfield, the estate outside of Bristol, where parts of My Mother’s Secret are set. Tyntesfield, like Bronte’s Thornfield, becomes a place of secrecy, deceit and even ghost-like doubles.  

Jane Eyre is Stella’s favourite book. She moulds herself on Jane, and, appropriately, her Instagram name is Mrs Rochester. Stella’s desire to find out what her mother’s secret is frames her narrative in a Jane Eyre-esque Bildungsroman, and the secret, like the character of Bertha in Jane Eyre, becomes the threat to her teenage romance. 

Stella’s teenage crush Adam – MaddAddam on Instagram – builds an unlikely connection between Jane Eyre and Margret Atwood’s novel Oryx and Crake. Whilst placing teenage love on social media is fitting, Atwood’s post-apocalyptic dystopia seems worlds away from Bronte’s 19th century England. But the twist in Stella and Adam’s love story – the reason their love must remain forbidden – draws these two novels together.

My Mother’s Secret invites a re-reading of one of Jane Eyre’s most famous lines, which Stella quotes:

No woman was ever nearer to her mate than I am: ever more absolutely bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh.

Stella will regret wanting love like that… like Adam says of Atwood’s ‘speculative fiction’: ‘it means that everything could happen right now’.

Stella’s book club, and the books they read, provide a platform for the reader to speculate on the relationships in My Mother’s Secret. But the constant twists prove that these books cannot be relied on; the complexities of love in My Mother’s Secret is utterly new.

 

 

Book Club Questions for My Mother’s Secret

 

I love reading and writing – obviously! And I then love meeting up with people to chat about what I’ve read, maybe over a glass of wine!

In case you’d like to talk about My Mother’s Secret in your book club, we’ve put together some questions to get you started. You can download them below. Do email me if you have any of your own, or have a look at a Q&A with me.

 

My Mother’s Secret Book Club Questions

My Mother’s Secret Q&A

In the meantime, I’ll let you into a secret – the character I like best in My Mother’s Secret!

Do let me know who you like best!

 

Easter holiday reading recommendations

We’re coming up to the Easter holidays. My family had a lovely tradition when we were growing up: my mum would hide a book instead of a chocolate Easter egg for me…although I think there’d be a rebellion if I tried to do that in our house! I hope you enjoy some time to read over the holidays. Do let me know what you’re reading and what you think of these suggestions. Chocolate optional.

Nutshell by Ian McEwan

So here I am, upside down in a woman…

So begins Nutshell, narrated by a foetus who sounds like an erudite, arrogant, aristocrat. Nearly full term, and fuelled by podcasts and Sancerre, our exceptionally young man is concerned because his mother and her lover are about to do something terrible to his father.

Now I’m certain…they’re planning a dreadful event. Should it go wrong, I’ve heard them say, their lives will be ruined.

A combination of psychological thriller, treatise on modern malaise, ode to poetry and homage to Hamlet, this could be insufferable, but manages, instead to be wry, poignant, gripping as well as wonderfully written.

 

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn

A domestic noir inspired by Hitchcock’s Rear View Window: psychologist Anna Fox has suffered some kind of trauma, which has left her agoraphobic and confined to her house in New York. She and her husband are separated, and he  currently has their daughter, Olivia, with him. Anna spends her days playing chess online, counselling fellow agoraphobics and spying on her neighbours.

Some nights I haunt her room like a ghost. Some days I stand in the doorway, watch the slow traffic of dust motes in the sun. Some weeks I don’t visit the fourth floor at all, and it starts to melt into memory, like the feel of rain on my skin.

New neighbours move in who seem to be a mirror of the family she’s lost: a husband, wife and their teenage son. Then one day, Anna sees something terrible happen in their house but thanks to Anna’s cornucopia of medication, and merlot as medicine, no one believes her.

The ash tree cowers, the limestone glowers, dark and damp. I remember dropping a glass onto the patio once; it burst like a bubble, merlot flaring across the ground and flooding the veins of the stone work, dark and bloody, crawling towards my feet.

This is a beautifully written book, which starts gently before the stomach-clenching, jaw-dropping twists begin. The characters are brilliantly realised, the guilt, the fear and the claustrophobia are palpable.

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

It’s 1792 and Europe is rocked by political violence whilst in Bristol there is a property boom, that will, as we know now, collapse barely a year later when war breaks out between England and France. Birdcage Walk is a psychological and historical thriller about Lizzie Fawkes, daughter of radical feminist, Julia Fawkes, who marries property developer, John Diner Tredevant. I loved the historical details, particularly as the novel is set in Bristol, where I have spent most of my adult life.

We gazed out at the plunge of the Gorge. From here we could not see the river crawling in its bed, but saw the dark curve of the trees on the other side. The forest was so thick that I never wanted to enter it. It seemed as if anything might live within it.

Although the backdrop of the novel is political and social, the characters are incredibly realistic, at its heart, it’s about the love between mother and daughter, and how Diner is threatened, not only by their relationship, but by Lizzie’s independent and questioning nature.

My irritation melted. No one, I thought suddenly, would ever look at me like that, except for Mammie, because to her every good thing, every moment of happiness that came to me meant more than if it came to herself.

We learn early on what manner of man Diner is; his desire to control and suppress Lizzie is claustrophobic. This is a beautifully written novel, laced with dread, and shot through with emotional depth and compassion.

Birdcage Walk is the last book Dunmore wrote before she died. She finished it before she realised how seriously ill she was, but it’s possible she knew subconsciously that she was failing, for this novel is suffused with darkness and loss. As she herself wrote, ‘The question of what is left behind by a life haunts the novel.’

Watching 

 

Shetland based on Anne Cleeves’ Jimmy Perez detective novels: gripping, touching and emotionally raw; and thriller, McMafia, a taut, family-based drama, of one man’s road to ruin, inspired by Misha Glenny’s non-fiction account of international crime.

 

Listening to

Story Grid Podcast based on Shawn Coyne’s book on how to develop one’s craft as a writer; with aspiring novelist, Tim Grahl. An absolute must-read/listen if you want to be a fantastic fiction writer!

 

 

 

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Book recommendations to beat the January Blues

 

Struggling with winter blues and dry January? Me too. I’ve got some book recommendations: curl up on the sofa, wrap yourself in a cosy blanket and read one of these with a hot mug of chai. Happy 2018 and here’s to more reading!

And if you like the sound of these, do sign up to my Book Club for more suggestions and advanced news about my forthcoming thriller.

 

 The Dry by Jane Harper

Flies swarmed as the blood pooled black over tiles and carpet. A child’s scooter lay abandoned on the stepping stone path. Just one human heart beat within a kilometre radius of the farm.

Policeman Aaron Falk returns to his hometown of Kiewarra for the funeral of his best friend. Luke Hadler is thought to have committed suicide after murdering his wife and six-year-old son. Australia is in the grip of the worst drought for a century and the town is like a powder keg: it hasn’t rained for two years and tensions are running high. Aaron Falk is unwillingly drawn into the investigation, but Falk may not be as innocent as he looks, for he and Luke share a twenty-year old secret. You can feel the crackle of the heat from the pages in this blisteringly well-told tale.

 

The Girls by Emma Cline

I looked up because of the laughter, and kept looking because of the girls.

It’s 1969, California. Evie Boyd, the daughter of a wealthy woman going through a turgid divorce, is fourteen, sad, lonely and unloved. When Evie sees the girls in the park and, at their centre, Suzanne, black-haired and beautiful, she’s drawn to them, desperate for affection. She follows them back to the decaying ranch and their cult, led by the charismatic and amoral Russell. The consequences will be savage and haunt Evie for the rest of her life. The prose is achingly poetic; The Girls is based on the serial killer, Charles Manson; at its heart it’s about young women’s desire for love and acceptance and how the response can often be casual and cruel abuse from men.

(Thanks to my sister, Sheila Fox, for recommending this one).

Behind her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

The past is as ephemeral as the future – it’s all perspective and smoke and mirrors. You can’t pin it down, can you?… The truth is different to different people

Louise is a single mother and a secretary at an upmarket clinic for drug addicts. On a night out she meets and falls for David – who turns out to be her new boss. Life becomes even more complicated when she is befriended by his beautiful, but seemingly fragile wife, Adele. This is a story told by two potentially unreliable narrators, Adele and Louise, and at face value, is about the secrets husbands and wives keep from each other… Although it’s relatively slow-paced, I enjoyed the glimpse into a life far more opulent than my own, and one (with too much wine and too little sleep) closer to mine. There is a double plot turn at the end: one is reasonably easy to guess by the time you get there; the other is a humdinger, knock-your-socks-off twist.  If you listen to it, as I did, it’s brilliantly narrated by Anna Bentinck, Josie Dunn, Bea Holland and Huw Parmenter.

Book Club Questions for The Stolen Child

 

If anyone would like to discuss The Stolen Child in their Book Club, do get in touch, as I’d be very happy to FaceTime with your group! I’m sure you’ll have your own questions, but if you want some suggestions, here are some Book Club questions:

Book Club Questions – The Stolen Child

And if you’d like to know any more about the inspiration behind The Stolen Child, do have a look at the Q&A:

The Stolen Child Q&A

Or the video Q&A:

 

 

Let me know  how you get on!

Book Club Questions

BOOK CLUB QUESTIONS

category_diary80One of the wonderful things about being a writer, is that once your book is out there in the real world, other people can read it, argue about it and come up with their own interpretations. And one of the wonderful things about being a reader, is connecting with like-minded people and being able to chat about books, preferably over a cup of coffee or a glass of wine!

So in honour of readers and reading groups, my publisher, Corvus Books, have come up with some Book Club

IMG_3221questions about Bone by Bone. Do let me know if you discuss Bone by Bone with your Book Club, and what you think!

 

If you were in circumstances similar to Laura how would you have reacted?

Did the revelations about Levi later in the novel change your opinion of Laura?

What are some of the themes raised in this book?

How important is the notion of being a ‘good person’ in this book? What makes a ‘good person’?

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