About the Book
What if your experience of motherhood was nothing like what you hoped for – but everything you always feared?
‘The women in this family, we’re different…’
The arrival of baby Violet was meant to be the happiest day of my life. It was meant to be a fresh start. But as soon as I held her in my arms I knew something wasn’t right. I have always known that the women in my family aren’t meant to be mothers.
My husband Fox says I’m imagining it. He tells me I’m nothing like my own mother, and that Violet is the sweetest child. But she’s different with me. Something feels very wrong. Is it her? Or is it me? Is she the monster? Or am I?
Format: Hardcover (320 pages) Publisher: Michael Joseph
Publication date: 7th January 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction
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I first heard about The Push when it was one of the debut novels featured at the Michael Joseph Proof Party at Henley Literary Festival in 2020. Under normal circumstances, I might have expected to be aboard the Hibernia cruising along the Thames, sipping a glass of fizz while listening to Ashley talk about her book. Since 2020 was definitely not normal, instead I had to make do with the online event, which included an uncorrected proof copy of the book in the ticket price.
The compelling and intriguing prologue of The Push sees a woman (whom we will shortly know as Blythe) observing her daughter through the windows of the house of her former husband, Fox, and his new wife. The story that follows is her account of events, addressed to her ex-husband. The narrative style takes a little getting used to but comes to make absolute sense because the book is her side of the story and, to a certain extent, a self-justification of her response to the events that led up to this point.
Interspersed with Blythe’s first person narrative are occasional flashbacks to the troubled childhood of her mother, Cecilia. Cecilia’s experiences at the hands of her own mother, Etta, leads her to warn her daughter, “One day you’ll understand, Blythe. The women in this family, we’re different…”. It’s a statement that will colour Blythe’s view of herself and influence some of the events that follow.
Despite her understandable reservations about becoming a mother, Blythe is persuaded by Fox that they should start a family. I have never given birth but the author’s vivid description of Blythe’s experience of the birth of her daughter, Violet, brought me as close as I’m ever likely to get – or would want to get, frankly – to the reality of it. The book also conveys the rollercoaster of emotions Blythe experiences after giving birth – from the highs of the wonder and astonishment at the new life she has created to the lows of lack of sleep and the unrelenting nature of caring for a young baby. It brings Blythe close to breaking point. “I felt like the only mother in the world who wouldn’t survive it.”
Blythe worries she can’t live up to Fox’s expectations of what a ‘good mother’ should be however hard she tries. And she really does try. In fact, society’s expectations of motherhood is one of the themes explored in the book and the extent to which it involves an element of performance, of ‘playing the part’ expected, of hiding the private reality behind the public face.
To make things worse, Blythe struggles to bond with Violet in the way her daughter seems to do naturally with Fox. She confides, “I felt like I would never have with her what you had.” I’m sure I’m not the only reader moved by the rare occasions on which Violet responds to Blythe’s loving gestures. It’s a pattern that continues as Violet grows up, leading Blythe to wonder if is it something about her, or something about Violet that’s not quite right?
The author cleverly sows seeds of doubt in the reader’s mind. Are Blythe’s concerns about Violet’s behaviour merely delusions fuelled by Blythe’s own childhood experiences or a recognition of something within Violet that others fail to see? And are Violet’s questions merely a sign of precocious intelligence or evidence of a manipulative mind at work? As Blythe admits, “there weren’t many places my mind wouldn’t go. My imagination could tiptoe slowly into the unthinkable before I realized where I was headed”.
A shocking event part way through the book brings about a sudden change of tone. From that point on the author skillfully ramps up the tension, creating a chilling sense of foreboding that doesn’t let up until the final page.
From its clever title to its heart-stopping conclusion, The Push is an impressive debut about grief, obsession and betrayal.
In three words: Chilling, intense, suspenseful
Try something similar: The Recovery of Rose Gold by Stephanie Wrobel
About the Author
Ashley Audrain previously worked as the publicity director of Penguin Books Canada. Prior to Penguin, she worked in public relations. She lives in Toronto, where she and her partner are raising their two young children. The Push is her first novel.
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