Though The Mother-in-Law at first appears to be domestic thriller, I’d say it’s more of a book about relationships.
Lucy is a colorful, warm-hearted mother. Diana, her mother-in-law, is cold, disapproving, aloof. Through the chapters with their alternating points of view, we see the missed connections, the phrases that come out meaning one thing, but are taken another way. Instead of the harmony Lucy and Diana should and could have, there is strife and misunderstanding. The men in their lives, while well-meaning, are not much help.
“…Ollie is the fruit of my womb, yet at some point he’s become almost insignificant. He and Tom and Patrick are the cogs and spokes, but Lucy, Nettie and I, we are the wheels.”
The Mother-in-Law, Sally Hepworth
In an interview on the Books & Booze podcast, author Sally Hepworth talks about the fraught relationship that can occur between mother-in-law and daughter-in-law. These people didn’t choose one another, but they’re forced together in this relationship that exists whether they like it or not.
Hepworth is great at illustrating these relationship dynamics. It’s easy to go full-tilt-evil in creating a mother-in-law or antagonist. But Hepworth’s characters are more realistic. They all have flaws and they all have saving graces. They all (at least for the most part) have good intentions at heart, but don’t always carry them out successfully. I loved Lucy. And I loved Diana.
Possible spoiler coming. I’ll try to keep it vague, but this may give something away:
The one part I’m still conflicted on is the crazy-making hormones resulting from trying to conceive. It’s the same complaint I had with Lies She Told: woman tries to conceive, can’t, and goes on an insane rampage, chalking it all up to her hormones and crazy obsession with babies. I’m not thrilled with books that criminalize women based on their biology.
At the same time, sometimes a woman is indeed a prisoner to her own biology. Hepworth showed this perfectly with her depiction of postpartum psychosis in The Family Next Door.
Hence my conflicted feelings. I like when authors show the realities of the female experience, including motherhood. What I don’t like as much is when authors use a woman’s biology as a plot device, turning hormones into a villain.
Overall, though, The Mother-in-Law is an excellent book. I mourned Diana. Her loss is the true heartbreak here, plus the relationship Lucy should have been able to have with her.
Published April 2019
St. Martin’s Press
Many thanks to NetGalley and St. Martin’s Press for an advance e-copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.