My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
I read one of Sally Hepworth’s earlier novels last year and immediately connected with her writing style and storytelling approach. I marked the rest of her books as TBR, then saw The Mother-in-Law available via NetGalley. I was lucky enough to be approved for an ARC earlier this week and began reading it right away. What an emotional and angst-ridden tale about the relationship between several family members who can feel all too real and all too fake at the exact same time. I truly enjoyed this book and give it 4.5 stars. Let’s get into some specifics…
Lucy lost her mother when she was young. Although her father was wonderful, she never felt that connection with an older female who could guide her through becoming a mother, caring for a family, or securing your own position in the world as a strong, intelligent woman. When she meets Ollie, and he wants to introduce her to his family, Lucy is nervous but hopeful it fills a hole that’s been growing for far too long. Unfortunately, when Lucy meets his mother, Diana, it becomes quite clear that won’t happen.
Diana had a difficult childhood and was essentially almost forced to give Ollie up as a baby. When she was kicked out, Diana learned how to build something from nothing and to care for her family when she didn’t even have a place to live. She used that savvy experience to become a major player in an organization that helps young women trying to escape from difficult circumstances in their own country and move to America for a better life. Diana also developed a thick skin and an attitude that no one should be given a handout without working for it in return.
Although the story alternates chapters from Lucy’s and Diana’s viewpoints throughout the decade they know one another, there are other characters who help show what each woman is truly made of. Diana’s husband, Tom, is the complete opposite of her; he’s a lovable, genuine, and thoughtful husband and father who gets sick. Ollie’s sister and her husband are desperate for a baby and go to the extremes to make it happen with or without their family’s support and money. Ollie’s best friend becomes his business partner and wreaks havoc on a complex family relationship. Then there’s the 3 young children Ollie and Lucy have during that first decade. Throw in Diana’s untimely death, mysterious circumstances that make it look like a suicide but also a murder… and you’ve got quite a psychological exploration of what it means to be a parent and an in-law.
This book explores that fine line of how you say things without coming across as insensitive or rude, how you determine when to let a mistake happen so a new parent learns on her own how to care for the child, and how you deal with making a decision when you and your spouse are on opposite sides of how to best support your children. At times, Diana was truly a horrific witch of a human being. You come to realize she kinda knows the way she’s behaving is wrong, but it’s been ingrained in her. When she softens, you want to root for her. You want to believe she will turn that corner and do the right thing. Then she goes in the opposite direction, unlike Lucy, who is nearly consistent almost the entire time. She sucks it up when Diana is rude or distant. She does all the things she doesn’t want to do just so she doesn’t look like she’s being difficult. Until something bad happens, then Lucy blows up.
While 90% of me sides with Lucy, I do understand Diana’s approach. And it works in many circumstances; however, there comes a time when you let someone try to help themselves for only so long before it becomes too late. If you have an excess of money, and your children need it, don’t hold on to it forever if they have put years into helping themselves only to fail for reasons out of their control. Eventually, Diana begins to see the light, but it’s too late. Too much has been set in action, and her death is imminent. Was she murdered by one of these people who felt she went too far? Did she commit suicide because she felt guilty? Was it a freak and unexpected accident? You’ll have to read the book to find out, but I believe it’s worth it.
I couldn’t put the novel down. If I did, within 15 minutes, I kept telling myself ‘just one more chapter.’ Hepworth is brilliant at displaying angst, love, pain, and despair in a family who needs a little therapy to heal and forgive. It’s down-to-earth, regular actions and words that remind you of your own world (not the drama necessarily, but the way people relate to one another) feel comfortable yet push you just enough to question how you think about a situation. I adored this book and would love to give it a full 5-stars, but there were a few items I thought could have been a bit more tidy to be absolutely perfect. The ending is ‘ten years’ in the future which is great, but I would love to have seen some of the immediate drama after Diana’s death. We get a lot, but once the true reason she died is discovered, there’s a bit of a windy wrap-up without a clear enough focus on everyone’s reactions to the truth. I don’t want to spoil this surprise, but ultimately, if you’re gonna throw a curveball at us, give us a few reactions from the rest of the people involved so we sense a complete and thorough emotional see-saw when learning what happened to your family member.
That said, it’s a high recommendation from me… can’t wait to see what others think when it comes out in early 2019.
For those new to me or my reviews… here’s the scoop: I’m Jay, an author who lives in NYC. My stand-alone novels, Watching Glass Shatter and Father Figure, can be purchased on Amazon as electronic copies or physical copies. My new book series, Braxton Campus Mysteries, will fit those who love cozy mysteries and crime investigations. There are two books: Academic Curveball and Broken Heart Attack. I read, write, and blog A LOT on this site where you can also find all my social media profiles to get the details on the who/what/when/where and my pictures. Leave a comment and let me know what you think. Thanks for stopping by. Note: All written content is my original creation and copyrighted to me, but the graphics and images were linked from other sites and belong to them. Many thanks to their original creators. Follow my blog with Bloglovin.