For about 2 decades, a book called Four Bare Legs on a Bed has sat on a shelf in my parents' house. My mum bought it on one of her trips to London, but it never seemed to appeal to me and was one of the few books in the house I never read.
My mother was mainly responsible for my love for books. She stocked the home shelves well, and still buys me great titles when she travels without my asking for them. And yet, in nearly 35 years of being alive, I have never once seen her reading.
This always perplexed me, for how can a woman with such great literary taste (to me, anyway), not read the books she carefully purchases? Then I became a mother, and then I understood.
Late last year, Helen Simpson's Getting a Life came my way via Bookmooch. I recognized it had the same author as the book sitting in my mum's reading room (one review says it is in fact the same book, retitled and rejacketed for the American market), and noted that the first book won a writing award. Still, it took a few months for me to pick it up and read it.
The book now sits on my shelf and in my mind as a true gem. Simpson writes beautifully, and strikes such a chord in me with these stories that I wish every mother had their own copy, and that every father could read it too.
The author is a mother herself, and knows whereof she writes. What makes this book so resonant is that it shows how mothers are all, in fact, in the same boat, and they know this, but cannot reach out their hands to each other for support, for these hands are too busy "running the domestic circus, functioning as the beating heart of the family".
"Their needs were what was set. Surely that was the logic of it. It was for her to adapt, accommodate, modify in order to allow the familial organism to flourish. Here she was weeping over her own egotism like a novice nun, for goodness' sake, except it was the family instead of God. But still it was necessary, selflessness, for a while, even if it made you spat upon by the world. By your husband. By your children. By yourself."
I share my mother's knowledge now of "the shelves of books on the wall loaded with forbidden fruit, impossible to broach, sealed off by the laws of necessity from (her) maternal eyes. During the past five years, reading a book had become (for her) an activity engaged in at somebody else's expense."
Simpson rightly and beautifully illustrates how the family unit is in fact "a seesaw", and in order for one to take time for herself, the other parent must take up the slack, something few men are willing to do, so blindingly oblivious are they to all but their own needs and desires.
Like each story's protagonists, I love my husband. But wish he would realise just how demanding running a family really is. Still, now I feel less alone, less helpless. I know that mothers and wives all over the world feel the same way.