I’ve just read these two books and I think between them they do a great job of examining the challenges that becoming a mother places on self and identity. In The Other Side of the World Charlotte struggles to reconnect with the woman she was before children, and to find the time and energy to paint. Her husband, Henry, cannot face the thought of another English winter. Set in the 1960s, Charlotte is strangely contemporary. She is a painter until she becomes a mother, twice in quick succession. The uprooting she experiences as the family emigrates echoes the way in which she herself has been uprooted. This is an atmospheric story about travelling to the other side of the world in the 60s. The writing conveys the changing identity of becoming a new mother, losing yourself and finding your changed self. The scenery is vivid and Bishop does a good job of sharing both how the male and female lead characters feel. A good read, packed with emotion, the ending challenges every mother who has ever felt that her role is too much.
The Crossing is a strange book – but well worth a read. It asks questions about identity and motherhood and running away. The writing, the language is restrained, and some part of it seems very male as it describes Tim and Maud’s growing relationship, and the birth of their daughter Zoe. In other ways the writing reflects Maud’s character: she is presented as a career woman, a woman who is attractive without knowing it, and ultimately it questions Maud’s role and ability as a mother.
Maud’s love of sailing drives the book. Along with her career as a research scientist, sailing seems the closest she can come to have a passion, and Miller’s book really took off as I read Maud’s struggles with a storm at sea. Like The Other Side of the World, there is ambiguity in the end. Maud is no longer the same person, no longer in the place where she started. Both books acknowledge that in becoming a mother one is no longer the same. And both expose the uncertainty in becoming someone new.