The Mouse-Proof Kitchen by Saira Shah
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
I received this as an Advance Reader's Copy (ARC) from Bookbrowse.com, and when I started reading it, I questioned my sanity in requesting it in the first place. Not because it's a terrible book--it's not. Rather, because a woman in her late 30s, six months pregnant for the first time with a much-anticipated daughter should probably not read a story about a woman in her late 30s who just gave birth for the first time to Freya, an unexpectedly severely handicapped baby girl. Anna's despair, frustration, and need to control something--anything--in her out-of-control life rang out so strongly, I had a hard time disengaging my own emotions from hers.
Anna's husband shirks responsibility and provides virtually no support--emotionally, financially, or practically. I kept wondering why she stayed with him. She supposedly loved him very much, but I really didn't see why. He ignores her for most of the book and spends most of his time shutting out the world while he works on composing movie music and flirting with Lizzy, the flibbertigibbet teenager they pay to help take care of Freya...which she never actually does.
Anna becomes increasingly short-tempered and shrewish as the book progresses and her exhaustion (mental and physical) mounts, which is certainly a realistic reaction to her situation. I didn't always like Anna, but I also could empathize with how she was feeling, and I certainly don't claim I'd react any better were I in her shoes. How does one cope with the collapse of one's dreams of parenthood? How do you face a lifetime caring for a child whose brain never fully developed and who has constant seizures, a lack of muscle control, and will only ever be, in essence, a gigantic infant, no matter how long she lives, never capable of caring for her own most basic needs, if she even survives at all?
For readers' advisors: character doorway is primary, setting (they move from England to a village in France) is secondary. To me the tone of the book was...heavy and frequently depressing. The secondary characters are quite well-developed, and the mystery of their neighbor's mother's death during WWII was intriguing. I think this would make an excellent choice for an adult book discussion group.
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