The Almost Mothers by Laura Besley

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It’s hard to be a mother. You don’t really study for it. You can’t tell people: I have BA in mothering with honours.

That might be why some mothers feel so inadequate. Or why some others feel the need to get validation from others. Or why some fall apart.

No book or NCT course will get you prepared for the fact that you will lose your identity and will have to piece back together a whole new one, a new you – which for some is incredibly difficult, it might take years, it might never happen. But we can hope!

Motherhood is a minefield of doubt, joy, guilt, sorrow, competition, exhaustion and puzzlement.

In The Almost Mothers, Laura Besley covers all those emotions through an array of bite-size stories and characters – and the result is a brave, generous and deeply honest collection.

It’s that honesty, running throughout the entire collection that I enjoyed the most, from Mothers Anonymous that certainly opens the collection with a bang and a killer last line to the closing story The Motherhood Contract.

Laura Besley paints a vibrant mosaic of various women, in their various relationships to motherhood: Stacey and her friend discuss how they perform at their latest parenting exercise (Playing at Being Grown-Ups), Oliver and Joe’s mums compete over their infants reading and maths achievements (Getting Ahead), new mothers struggle with exhaustion and PND (Hello, Again; To cut a long story short, Everything’s fine.) Exhausted mums take part in a scientific experiment (Breakthrough in motherhood programme). A young mum seeks new thrills in the supermarket (Hooked), Supermum has all the answers, the Unmothers don’t fit in. Women question their own mothers’ love (That Apple, Near and Far), heartbroken mothers mourn their loss (Not all Linings are Silver, All the Children)

All those Mothers, Unmothers, Supermothers, Almost Mothers, Broken Hearted Mothers come to life under Laura Besley’s delightful and compassionate style and manicured prose – they’re all nestled together between the books pink cover, fragile yet strong and wonderfully human.

Even harder than being a mother, is the tricky task of writing about being a mother or motherhood without sounding patronising, pointing to the obvious or putting everyone off. Laura masters this entirely and beautifully, because of the aforementioned honesty, because she looks at parenting with candid eyes and shows us reality, sometimes as it is, sometimes framed by a fictional setting. She bravely shares thoughts and anguish that most mothers might think but not dare uttering out loud.

Laura shows but never tells and leaves the unsaid for us to ponder; and whatever you might get out of this collection, whether it’s a few laughs and nods of recognition or a deep sense of finally being understood, it is marvellous and masterful and a collection that all mothers or would be mothers should read.

The Almost Mothers is published by Dahlia Books and is available here.

Laura Besley

Laura Besley writes short (and very short) fiction in the precious moments that her children are asleep. Her fiction has appeared online (Fictive Dream, Spelk, EllipsisZine) as well as in print (Flash: The International Short Story Magazine) and in various anthologies (Adverbally Challenged, Another Hong Kong, Story Cities).

Reviewed by B.F. Jones

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