Review: The Almost Mothers by Laura Besley (2020)

Blurb

you want to scream and cry, and cry some more, but you don’t because if you start, you’ll never stop…

A first time mum struggles with her newborn baby. An alien examines the lives of Earth Mothers. A baby sleeps through the night at long last.

Written with raw honesty, Laura Besley’s debut flash collection exposes what it really means to be a mother.

Review

Flash fiction has been growing in popularity over the last few years, and I’m delighted to see this powerful form getting the recognition it deserves. Flash is so difficult to write well – I have tried and failed many times – and this collection shows off the very best of what it can achieve. I follow Laura on Twitter, and have been meaning to get hold of her debut collection for a while. I am so glad I did.

Obviously the theme is very relevant to me: anyone who knows me or even follows me on Twitter will be aware that motherhood is a pretty defining part of my identity (indeed, at times over the last five years, it has felt like my entire identity), but what Laura manages to do so well in this collection is to display the huge range of what motherhood can look like, to take it beyond its basic biological definition and show that being a mother is not the same as giving birth to a child. One story in particular, ‘Near and Far,’ expresses this idea so succinctly and beautifully; in just over a page, it manages to be deeply moving and to hint at so much more than is directly expressed. In this and other stories, there is a heft of narrative behind the glimpse that we see which shows the author’s skill with this form.

The stories broadly fall into two categories: the realistic, sometimes raw and sometimes amusing portrayals of ‘mum life’ on the one hand, and imaginative journeys into dystopian futures, alien observations and guilt-dusting fairies on the other. I really enjoyed the variety of these two ‘modes’. Stories such as ‘That Face’ and ‘Supermum’ are as familiar to me as breathing; while pieces like ‘Breakthrough in Motherhood Programme’ and ‘How To Grow Your Own Baby’ provide a slantwise perspective which illuminates the dark corners of the subject of motherhood. One of the great pleasures of reading a themed flash collection is watching the author’s imagination spark off the central idea in both relatable and entirely unexpected ways, and Laura’s ability to prise open the kernel of a story and draw in the reader over such a short space is an utter joy.

The author makes excellent use of flash’s potential for humour and for the ‘sting in the tale’ – there are dark laughs and gasps of shock to be had aplenty here. But what will stay with me is the truth and honesty of this slim volume, which pierces to the heart of what it means to be a mother, or to want to be a mother, or to NOT want to be a mother. This book is a small gem, and I would highly recommend it to all except those for whom this topic could be triggering. I have to admit I think there are points in the past when this book would have struck home too strongly, but that just goes to show how insightful and honest the writing is. I am very much looking forward to seeing what this talented writer produces next.

The Almost Mothers is published by Dahlia Books and is available to purchase here.

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