30 Aug Loved and Missed by Susie Boyt Blogtour Review
A powerful exploration of enduring maternal love
Every so often, I come across a book that blows me away with the beauty of its writing, the strength of its characters and the perspicacity of its theme. Such stories need very little plot to drive them forward and compel the reader to keep turning the pages.
Loved and Missed is one such novel. There is a plot of course – the story opens with narrator Ruth, a middle-aged teacher, taking on the task of bringing up her baby granddaughter Lily whom she has more or less snatched from her daughter Eleanor and partner Ben, two drug and alcohol dependent young people who struggle to look after themselves, never mind a baby.
In the ensuing narrative, which takes us back and forward across the years from Eleanor’s birth to Lily’s coming-of-age, a story emerges of a woman who is strong, brave, dignified and kind, even though she doesn’t believe it herself.
For while Ruth invests all her energies into ensuring her granddaughter enjoys a safe and happy home life, she torments herself with her perceived failures towards Eleanor, who went off the rails at just 13.
Despite all her efforts, she has been unable to protect her, but as a mother, she never stops loving her, and more importantly she never gives up on her.
This theme of the mother/daughter relationship is beautifully explored by Susie Boyt, who understands the complexities of family bonds that can never be broken – perhaps unsurprisingly as she’s the great-granddaughter of Sigmund Freud.
The story of Ruth’s relationships with Eleanor, with Lily, with her own late mother and with her friends, all build a picture of a woman who feels “a failure” who feels “invalidated as a mother” but who never breaks down or gives up, no matter how alone and helpless she feels. She tries so hard to be a good mother and grandmother, repressing her feelings so that she does not alienate her daughter, no matter what she thinks of her lifestyle.
Ruth’s story is an exploration of humanity, raw and honest and deeply emotive. Though she judges herself harshly, she is never judgmental – nor is the author, nor the reader who is not expected to make judgments but simply to accept the heart-breaking power of maternal love.
And so we can feel deep empathy for all the characters, including Eleanor, though wisely the story shies away from Eleanor’s own point of view. Instead, how she feels about losing Lily to Ruth (and about her mother herself) is portrayed in her actions as she flits in and out of the story.
Though not a strong physical presence, she is there on every single page, reinforcing the theme of motherhood in all its fallible glory.
How will it all end for Ruth, Eleanor and Lily? In some ways it doesn’t matter. It’s their journey through the life they find themselves in that is the all-consuming interest.
Susie Boyt’s perfect writing makes every single sentence a joy to read. Who wouldn’t instantly understand Ruth is a teacher when she says “my voice had file paper in it, ring binders, hole punches, sticks of chalk.” All we need to know about Eleanor and Ben’s chaotic lifestyle is summed up when Ruth, visiting their flat, mentions a burnt spoon.
This poetic prose is a hallmark of the book, making people, places and situations vividly real in the reader’s mind. Even the three-word title of the book works on many different levels.
This story really touched my heart – it’s thought-provoking, tear-provoking and despite the harsh realities of Ruth, Eleanor and Lily’s situation, life-affirming.
Ruth may not believe in herself, but any reader will fall in love with her capacity for enduring with dignity every single trial that motherhood, grandmotherhood and daughterhood can throw at her. I loved this.
About the Author
Susie Boyt is the author of six acclaimed novels and the much-loved memoir My Judy Garland Life which was shortlisted for the PEN Ackerley Prize, staged at the Nottingham Playhouse and serialised on BBC Radio 4. She recently edited The Turn of the Screw and Other Ghost Stories by Henry James and writes columns and reviews for publications ranging from the Financial Times to American Vogue. Boyt is a director at the Hampstead Theatre in London. She also works for Cruse Bereavement Care. She is the daughter of Lucian Freud and the great granddaughter of Sigmund Freud.
Follow her on Twitter @SusieBoyt
Thanks to Ann Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting me on the bogtour and for the advance copy of the book in return for an honest review.
Catch up with the rest of the blogtour by following the links on the poster