By R J Askew
ST ALBANS, March 23 – Mother to daughter – ‘How I wish you’d never been born, you’ve caused us all so much grief and pain’.
Lucinda E Clarke’s ‘Walking over eggshells’ is a tale of survival in the face of excoriating maternal rejection.
Some mothers, it seems, are not naturally inclined to be the carriers and guardians of life; where they should comfort they reject, where they should encourage they damn, where they should love they revile.
Mother to daughter – ‘If I’d known how you were going to turn out, I’d never have had you. You are such a disappointment to me, I’m ashamed of you.’
Just typing such razor words is an unsettling experience. I can’t imagine being on the receiving end of them. Nor can I imagine what it takes to utter them.
Personally, I hope I would have walked and carried on walking and never turned back. But this may be easier said than done. Perhaps staying is even harder, however. No, there is no winning for the daughter of such a cruel mother.
Mother to daughter – ‘You’re just an ungrateful child. I told you you’d always be bad, you always have been. You never deserved a mother like me.’
Year after year, decade on decade.
I confess the mother makes an interesting study. Most monsters do. We wonder why and how she is as she is, all sorts of things. And, of course, how we might respond to such systemic and routine belittlement.
The author – who was still getting physically slippered when she was twenty – simply gets on with things as best she can. Her resilience as extreme as the attacks she endures.
We are brutal animals at times. And all this behind a seemingly nice middle-class facade. It was ever thus.
Amazingly, the author doesn’t become an urban terrorist or even a junkie. She goes off to teacher training college. All very normal. Childline had not been dreamed up then. Things were hushed up.
Yet, it was the late 1960s, and things they were a-changing – the music, hair, hemlines, the pill. To many of the mother’s generation, it was a time of shocking degeneracy, the end of everything.
Inter-familial wars were commonplace, as the new youth pushed and pushed, and the last of the old school tried to keep their ‘children’ in their place.
Mother to daughter – ‘Oh yes, it’s all about the young now, isn’t it? Everything’s for them, nothing for normal (reviewer’s italics) people.’
So ‘Walking over eggshells’ in some way reflects the wider pain of a new generation, struggling to find its way in a world that was lost and found in a tumult of war and revolt: Vietnam, civil rights, MAD (Mutual Assured Destruction), Led Zeppelin, purple flares. The author even owned the sixty-fifth Mini to roll off the production lines. Now how cool was that?
Yet she still displayed strong traits of the old school. She dates a young Tory and seems set to marry into the burbs. But – what’s this? – a powerful counter-weight to her mother enters the story. Jeremy the job-getter. Alas, Jeremy loses jobs as rapidly as he gets them. That said, he shows off-the-scale initiative, marries the author and whisks her off on a succession of adventures from Scotland to Joburg, via Libya, Kenya, and Botswana.
For this reader, the best part of the book was the time spent in Libya. If you have to escape a cruel mother, Libya is as good a place as any. But in all seriousness, the insights into what seemed like a last hurrah for the buccaneering colonial approach to go-getting was both entertaining and enlightening.
The author was kept very busy in every outpost and became progressively busier when she herself had children and Jeremy-the-job-loser becomes increasingly unreliable, as his drinking and business mishaps mount until he and the author finally drift apart. This part of the story is profoundly sad, reflecting and compounding earlier hurts.
The questions mount along with the debts. I was moved that the author was still struggling to come to terms with her mother in her mid forties.
Both she and her mother remarry, adding further players to their lifelong battle. It makes no sense to an outsider. But this seems to be the essential nature of family warfare – senselessness.
That said, the author was not wont to dwell on her own misfortunes. She was too busy. A surprising new career in radio springs up for her. She gets even busier. She has to be.
Meanwhile, there is her mother, always her mother, unrelenting to the end – apart, perhaps, from when she is medicated.
But by the very end, the author has worked it all out.
Daughter on narcissistic mothers – ‘There is nothing, absolutely nothing you can ever, ever, do to change things. Yes, we can distance ourselves in order to protect ourselves, but we cannot change our mothers’ behaviour, no matter what we do or say.’
I am sure that ‘Walking over eggshells’ is a must read for any woman with an extremely domineering mother.