Meera Syal immerses us in the tale of a rarely spoken subject: surrogacy. We are introduced to a forty-something has been mother trying for her second child. Shyama’s character reminds the reader that life isn’t always kind; escaping a troublesome marriage when her first born was young and now living opposite her ageing parents. Syal paints a picture of Shyama’s desperation to give her new life partner, Toby a child together whilst compromising old friendships, and the relationship with her existing nineteen-year-old daughter.
Syal covers many themes in her latest book including cross-cultural relationships, motherhood, feminism, family dynamics and of course not forgetting international surrogacy. As a young woman in my twenties enjoying my life and career, family planning and the focus on surrogacy is far off my agenda. Although, reading House of Hidden Mothers has given me a refreshed outlook on the issues around pregnancy and motherhood. Whilst I would love to become a mother one day with my own children, the thoughts around parenting and the process is something I’ve always found quite daunting.
Syal’s style of writing captures a raw projection of the female voice. Interestingly her wit and obvious sarcasm demonstrates the female consciousness of becoming an ageing woman from the beginning chapter. Shyama’s voice describes the ageing process through rather direct commentary,
“Then […] she just let go. Let the belly sag and the grey show through, and blow the gym membership on vodka and full-sleeve tops to cover up the incoming bingo wings.” pg.3
I think that Syal writes from the point of view as a mother and daughter, balancing outlooks from Shyama and her daughter’s character, Tara. We see a rounded experience of what makes a family unit, including the struggles of emotions from various characters, including the male members connected to the situation, liken dad-to-be, Toby. Entertainingly we are also introduced to not just immediate family involvement as House of Hidden Mothers captures relationships between friends and the most fascinatingly, between the surrogate and the wishful parents.
In conclusion House of Hidden Mothers challenges sensitive topics in one complete novel. At times incorporating theme upon theme struggles to weave in and out of the narrative of effectively. However, overall the novel provides a rich offering of emotional experiences and perspectives for a tangible reading experience. I would recommend this book to not only women exploring surrogacy, but to women similar to myself – those who haven’t given much thought to becoming a potential parent. Sathnam Sanghera commented this book is “Original, important, and true.” – A very accurate statement especially where the Asian reader is concerned. Surrogacy as a topic is kept hushed, even more so in the Asian community. I believe House of Hidden Mothers welcomes the encouragement of considering surrogacy and challenges the cultural and societal expectations around family life.
House of Hidden Mothers is published by Doubleday
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Amrit Matharu works for BBC Asian Network as an assistant radio producer. With a degree in English Literature, Amrit produced an academic thesis on the representation of the British-Asian female in South Asian Literature. GloBooks welcomes Amrit to the team. ! Connect with her http://www.amarettosworld.tumblr.com/