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Book: “Motherthing” by Ainslie Hogarth
Publishing Info: Vintage, September 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: I received an eARC from NetGalley.
Book Description: A darkly funny domestic horror novel about a woman who must take drastic measures to save her husband and herself from the vengeful ghost of her mother-in-law.
When Ralph and Abby Lamb move in with Ralph’s mother, Laura, Abby hopes it’s just what she and her mother-in-law need to finally connect. After a traumatic childhood, Abby is desperate for a mother figure, especially now that she and Ralph are trying to become parents themselves. Abby just has so much love to give—to Ralph, to Laura, and to Mrs. Bondy, her favorite resident at the long-term care home where she works. But Laura isn’t interested in bonding with her daughter-in-law. She’s venomous and cruel, especially to Abby, and life with her is hellish.
When Laura takes her own life, her ghost haunts Abby and Ralph in very different ways: Ralph is plunged into depression, and Abby is terrorized by a force intent on destroying everything she loves. To make matters worse, Mrs. Bondy’s daughter is threatening to move Mrs. Bondy from the home, leaving Abby totally alone. With everything on the line, Abby comes up with a chilling plan that will allow her to keep Mrs. Bondy, rescue Ralph from his tortured mind, and break Laura’s hold on the family for good. All it requires is a little ingenuity, a lot of determination, and a unique recipe for chicken à la king…
Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!
I am very thankful to say that I have a pretty good relationship with my mother in law. I’ve known her since I was a teenager, which probably helps, but she has always been very kind and supportive and has been perfectly fine keeping healthy involvement and boundaries when it comes to the family my husband and I have built. That said, I am always down for some juicy literary drama regarding in laws from hell, and based on the description “Motherthing” by Ainslie Hogarth should have fit the bill. We have a toxic mother in law, a harried wife, and the promise of a funny domestic horror story involving a haunting perpetrated by a terrible woman, with a daughter in law determined to stop it. That is what I thought this book was going to be.
Well. I didn’t think it was most of those things.
We’ll start with the good. It was funny! When we meet our first person protagonist Abby we have a stressed and damaged daughter in law whose mother in law Laura has just killed herself, possibly one last manipulation directed at Abby’s husband Ralph. From the jump it is clear that Abby has a lot of mental and emotional issues, and said issues aren’t just because of Laura. But her stream on consciousness narration is at times incredibly humorous, like laugh out loud so, especially if you are into dark humor. And I also applaud how Hogarth has attempted to tell this story in a unique narrative style, flipping from first person narration, and sometimes to stage directional narration styles, as combined it does get the point across that Abby is becoming more and more unhinged as the story goes, and as she is feeling haunted by her dead mother in law in a literal sense while also being haunted by her neglected childhood and her desire to have a mother figure in her life (as well as have a baby so she can be the perfect mother). All of this worked for me.
What didn’t work for me as much was how everything kind of played out. Unique writing to be sure, but it is also very stilted and very strange. I am sure that it is deliberate and to make the reader feel as disoriented as Abby and to convey her mental state, but I found it aggravating as the story went on, and it felt rather repetitive as well. And to be quite honest, the description of this book makes it sound like we are dealing with a quasi comedic ghost story involving a toxic mother in law and the beleaguered daughter in law who has to play ghostbuster. But instead we get more of an exploration of a woman on the brink of complete mental and emotional breakdown, and boy oh boy does it go to very out there places. I do think that the problem is how it is described as opposed to the actual execution, because if my expectations had been a little more in line with what was presented it possibly would have gone over better. But as it was, I didn’t know what I was getting into and it soured the entire experience. I want to know if something is going to go surreal so I can get in the right mind frame. Going into this thinking it’s a domestic horror comedy isn’t going to manage expectations properly.
“Motherthing” didn’t click for me. If you like weird fiction elements to your horror it may click for you!
Rating 5: While it had some very funny moments, it was a little too weird for me and didn’t really deliver on what it was promising in the description or marketing.
“Motherthing” is included on the Goodreads list “Birmingham Feminist Book Club”.