Ask a new mother about her mothers group and she will either break into a smile or will burst into tears. They promise so much – new friends, like-minded women on the same learning curve as you, coffee mornings and long chats. And yet they don’t always deliver. Sometimes they can be bitchy, competitive (just what you need when you are feeling like the only thing you may wear ever again is a tracksuit!) or full of women you simply don’t connect with. Ultimately, mothers groups are women thrown together just because they had a baby and they happen to live in the same suburb.
I struck gold with my group. They are insanely ace. A decade on, nine of us still meet for dinner every month and manage to get away for a weekend each year (in fact, we all agree that mothers group became much more fun when we no longer had to bring the kids along). The group has seen each other through really, really good times and really, really bad. I need to stress the ‘really’ in that last sentence because some of what has happened in my own group is like what happens in Fiona Higgins’ new novel, The Mothers’ Group. But without the neat conclusion.
The Mother’s Group begins as a fairly light-weight read. The reader is introduced to the group’s six members through the eyes of workaholic Ginie – there’s kind-hearted Made, the Balinese immigrant; Suzie, a single (Earth) mother; quiet Pippa, who suffers postnatal depression; gregarious Cara, whose marriage is teetering on the brink; and cool Miranda, a stepmum. Each chapter is told through the eyes of a different character – while this format is somewhat predictable, it’s a neat way of introducing a character’s history and motives.
There are lots of scenes in the first chapter that will have mothers smiling, particularly Ginie’s reluctance to go along to the first mothers group session and the description of the first session, dominated by the bossy maternal health nurse with her ever-so-slightly condescending tone –
“She couldn’t imagine anything worse than sitting around with a bunch of women she didn’t know, eating biscuits and talking babies.”
There were also nice little snapshots of the drudgery, the relentlessness and the practical challenges of being a first-time mother –
“I’ve got a law degree, she thought, and I can’t even get a baby jogger through the bloody door.”
Obviously no one wants to read a book about women ‘sitting around, eating biscuits and talking babies’ and so comes a few twists and turns in the plot. Did I say a few? I meant a lot. Expect infidelity, substance abuse, birth deformities, mental health issues and more. Much more. And this is where The Mothers’ Group left me a little cold. There was too much going on.
I don’t expect stories to be ‘realistic’ however in this instance, the multitude of issues and life-changing events that each character faced was distracting. More importantly, if these things happened in real life I do not believe the group would stay together – yes, the first year of mothers group is ‘make or break’ but without giving away any of the plot, in this instance it would have been ‘break’.
At the urging of Cara, the mothers group also becomes a book group. I found Wiggins choice of books for the ‘book group’ obvious and divisive – Eat, Pray, Love plays out against Ginie’s corporate world complete with nanny and Made’s spiritual beliefs about love, loyalty and family; We Need to Talk About Kevin against Miranda’s battles with her three-year-old stepson, Digby. It didn’t need the ‘book group’ layer – Wiggin’s characters and their motives are enough to stand alone.
When there’s a crisis, I cook. Trays of lasagna and containers of pumpkin soup left on doorsteps – sometimes the only thing you can do to help someone out is make sure dinner is on their table. So naturally The Mothers’ Group calls for family friendly comfort food and a chicken and leek pie fits the bill.
2/5 A two doesn’t reflect how much I enjoyed the book whilst I was reading it however I do think ‘less is more’ and The Mothers’ Group would have been stronger with one or two less sub-plots.