My Wild Sleepless Nights
What does being a mother really feel like? Clover Stroud’s powerhouse of a memoir gets closer than anything else I have read to answering that question. The motherhood she describes is the very antithesis of the sanitised, smiling vision we are sold in washing powder ads.
There are no pastel colours here; Stroud’s mother-love is “as raw and rare as cutting through the soft dark crimson of uncooked liver”. When someone gives her new baby a stuffed toy monkey, she longs to surround him with more ancient and serious things: the Bible, The Complete Works of Shakespeare. The business of bringing a person into the world, after all, is not cute or clean or fluffy.
The book follows Stroud and her family through a tumultuous year, in which her fifth child, Lester, is born. We get a remarkable 360-degree view of many different stages of mothering, all happening at once: she lives through the passionate intensity of her first attachment with Lester, just as her eldest son, 16-year-old Jimmy, is in the process of separation, his adolescence “compelling us further and further apart, once magnets, now repelled”. Meanwhile her daughter Dolly is grappling with dyslexia and the onset of puberty. As Stroud battles through pregnancy, labour, breastfeeding, and meetings with the school about Jimmy’s weed habit, her third and fourth children, Dash and Evangeline, wheel about in a world of spilled cornflakes and imaginary cats