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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

The Tyranny Of Domestic Life

Night Waking - Sarah Moss

Set on a tiny Hebridean island, Night Waking is the story of Anna, academic and mother of two small children, who is working on a book about childhood in the eighteenth century while her own children are driving her to distraction and her aristocratic husband studies puffins, oblivious to the demands of domestic life. The already precarious balance of their lives is disturbed still further by the discovery of the bones of an infant buried in their garden.

Running parallel to the main narrative is a series of letters sent by a well-meaning midwife dispatched to the island in the nineteenth century whose attempts to redress the alarming level of infant mortality are met with outright hostility by the natives, some of whose descendants are Anna's nearest neighbours. It creates an ironic commentary on the present day and turns out to be the deus ex machina by which the plot is resolved.

This is a book about family life, about attitudes to children, about the burden of childcare and the sometimes devastating effects this can have upon a relationship, and Moss' portrait of the frustrations involved is often painfully familiar. In particular, she captures the toddler's disorientating commentary on everything, dizzily weaving fragments of well-known children's books into the narrative.

There is some excellent observational writing in this narrative but overall it's a rather bleak perspective on the contemporary family. Men are still useless at domesticity and women are obliged to nag them into grudging submission. I certainly wouldn't like to be stuck on an island with this family.