Two women pitted against each other in a silent battle.
The Mother-in-Law by Sally Hepworth
Genres: Fiction, Mystery
Published: 23rd April, 2019
Another non-thriller, The Mother-in-Law is one of those books that promises one thing, but delivers something different. Often this is a reason for me to be disappointed, but Sally Hepworth’s latest title grew on me surprisingly quickly.
So what is this book then, if it’s not a thriller? On the surface, it’s a mystery that jumps right into action when the mother-in-law is found dead on the first page, and we find out that not everyone is particularly distraught by these new. It’s a satisfying family drama, with all kinds of secrets, lies and misdirection I love so much, but at the same time it’s also a cleverly painted character portrait of two women who just can’t see eye to eye. When Ollie marries Lucy, she and Diana become a family whether they like it or not. Well, let me tell you, it’s mostly on the “not” side, and yet it’s not entirely as clear cut as you may think.
Whenever we interact with people, we can’t help but see them through our own filter. It’s quite a difficult thing to look at someone and see them exactly how they are, without getting hindered by our own misconceptions, ideas and beliefs. Some people overcome this, open up and discuss their differences, others choose to shut themselves off and give up after the first bump in the road.
It’s easy to label someone as cold and uncaring. Certainly more easy than taking the time getting to know them and see their point of view, or, heaven forbid, admit we were wrong. Diana and Lucy are seemingly two completely different women. While Diana is reserved and not particularly touchy-feely, Lucy is rater outgoing and bubbly. These two, as one may expect, don’t always mix so well.
Early on in her relationship with Ollie, Lucy decides that Diana just simply doesn’t like her. She’s cold and aloof and looks down on Lucy. Without reading half the story from Diana’s perspective, it would have an easy conclusion to jump to, even considering those little niggling doubts. Diana dedicated her life to help pregnant refugee women in need of support. How can someone so heartless do that?
As the story unfolded, my dislike towards Lucy increased. She’s whiny, ungrateful, often suffering from such entitlement I felt embarrassed just reading her thought process. She had this constant “everyone’s out there to get me” attitude, which is frankly tiresome. Meanwhile I found myself sympathizing with Diana and her lack of ability to properly connect with her family, basically rendering herself to a misunderstood pariah, and essentially the bad guy in everyone’s personal story. I used to suffer from the same thing, often finding myself speechless or unable to explain myself, and it’s not pleasant.
The book touched upon topics like expectations toward women vs. men, difficult family relationships, the effects of not communicating with one another, and a woman’s worth in the eye of our society. You know, even nowadays there are some people floating ideas like if you don’t have a child you are basically a worthless non-woman. #eyeroll
I resonated a lot with Diana’s feelings, and she gave voice to some of my fears I’m harboring about entering a new family. I’m not married, but I think one day I will be, and I was always terrified of the concept of the overbearing mother-in-law, and how I would cope with one. I came to the conclusion, that just like with any other relationship, knowing ourselves is the first step. Because perhaps what we conceive as overbearing is coming from an entirely different place.
“The problem is it’s just so easy for a mother-in-law to get it wrong. It seems there is an endless list of unwritten rules. Be involved but not overbearing. Be supportive but don’t overstep. Help with the grandkids but don’t take over. Offer wisdom but never advice. Obviously I haven’t mastered this list. The sheer weight of the requirements makes it intimidating even to try. The most frustrating part is that it’s nearly impossible for a father-in-law to mess it up. He has to be welcoming. That’s it. People have higher expectations of a dog.”