7 February 2008
Things I Want My Daughter To Know by Elizabeth Noble
How would you say goodbye to those you love most in the world?
Barbara must say a final farewell to her four daughters. But how can she find the words? And how can she leave them when they each have so much growing up to do? There's commitment-phobic Lisa. Brittle, unhappily married Jennifer. Free-spirited traveller Amanda. And teenage Hannah, stumbling her way towards adulthood.
Barbara's answer is to write each daughter a letter, finally expressing the hopes, fears, dreams and secrets she couldn't always voice. These words will touch the girls in different - sometimes shocking - ways, unlocking emotions and passions to set them on their own journey of discovery through life."
When you read that synopsis, it doesn't sound like the most cheerful book in the world. It certainly is emotional and upsetting at points, because of course the topic is the death of a mother and the grief suffered by the ones left behind, but at the same time, there is an uplifting side to the book which comes through the sad side of the book and makes you smile and feel good. That for me is what worked about this book - it had a good balance of sadness and sorrow, and happiness and a family really coming together much closer than they ever have before, albeit in terrible circumstances.
We don't get to meet Barbara in person, for obvious reasons. The only way we hear from her is the letters and diaries she has left for her daughters which are written in the first person. She comes across as a lovely mum, but there are a few bits which are quite shocking, and certainly not something you'd expect a dying woman to admit in a letter. Her character was instantly likeable and I warmed to her, and really enjoyed reading the letters from her. Her daughters on the other hand, well my opinion of them changed throughout the book to be honest!
The eldest daughter Lisa is a commitment-phobe to the highest degree. It was her who really grated on me throughout the book, because although she clearly missed her mother, she seemed to push away everyone who wanted to love her, and I just can't understand that myself. She was well-written but not particularly likeable by anyone. Jennifer, the second daugher is trapped in her marriage to Stephen, neither one admitting their true feelings to each other. She was a more complex character, with different layers to her. I particularly enjoyed a scene where she was drinking with her step-father and the author really allowed the character to let herself go. It made great reading, and showed the talent of the author.
Amanda is the traveller of the group, jetting off around the world for months at a time leaving her family behind. She doesn't feel settled at home, and shocking things are revealed to Amanda which makes her question everything she thought was true about herself. Finally, there is teenage Hannah, who is devastated to lose her mother just when she needs her most. Her father Mark is concerned about bringing up hus daughter and 3 step-daughters without Barbara but will his family make it easy for him?
This really is a wonderful book full of love and hope, and shows how important families are when you need them the most. The book explores so many levels of relationships between people; mother and daughter, father and daughter, step-parenting, first loves, old loves and finding a new love - its all in this emotional roller-coaster of a book. The third person narrative from the author makes it easy for the reader to follow each girls story, as the book is divided not into chapters, but into a section about a person of the story (Lisa, Jen, Amanda, Hannah and Mark) and this allows the book to flow freely with an ease of reading that makes it a joy. The switch to first person for Barbara's letter feels wholely appropriate and fits in well with the story and allows a break from the present and the girls to really come into the mind of Barbara during her dying days. It's a really emotional book which will touch your heart and leave you praying that the awful tragedy in this book never affects you. Brilliantly written and a joy to read - I recommend it highly.