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The Mother in Law by Sally Hepworth - Review

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Someone I follow on Instagram had read this book recently, and I was quite intrigued by it so I requested it at the library and picked it up. It's a weird book - I read it very quickly and found it compelling, but I can't altogether say I liked it. It's one of those books where nearly everyone is a terrible human and you're not compelled towards sympathy for any of them. I actually quite like that, but somehow it just didn't really work for me here.

Lucy is a stay at home mum living in Melbourne. She has three young kids, Archie, Harriet, and Edie, and she's married to Ollie. At the very beginning of the book, Ollie gets home from work, saying he is unwell, and shortly after police turn up at the door. Ollie's mum, Lucy's mother in law, Diana, is dead. It's an apparent suicide - there is poison next to her body, and a suicide letter found in her office. She had also told the family that she was suffering from breast cancer. 

However, police quickly discover that there was no poison in Diana'a body, and neither was there any cancer. They are treating the death as homicide. It becomes clear that everyone in the family had reason to dislike Diana. Lucy, in particular, has never really got on with her. Parts of the book from her point of view go back in time to show the fractious relationship the two have had ever since Lucy and Ollie got together.

Ollie was brought up by his mother, and his dad, Tom, alongside his sister Antoinette, known as Nettie. Nettie is married to Patrick and is desperate for a child. Tom is a businessman - I can't remember what he does, sorry - and has a lot of money. Lucy discovers this when she first meets Ollie's parents and sees the house, which has an indoor pool for one thing. They have, it's repeated several times throughout the book, 'more money than they could ever spend'.

However, and here's the big however, Diana refuses to give any of it to her children. She put them through private school, but since then has mostly left them to make their own way. She reasons this by saying that she didn't get handouts, and neither do the refugees she works with, so why should her children? She refuses to help Nettie out with IVF, and she refuses to help Ollie and Lucy with a down payment for a house.

Now, I do understand her point of view somewhat. I understand trying to teach your kids how to work hard and how to appreciate the value of a dollar. But she just comes across as tight for most of the book. And for no reason, when she has so much money. I didn't like this part of Diana at all.

Half of the chapters are from her point of view, so the reader is told how she is like she is, and why. There are things in her past that happened that explain why she doesn't want to just give her children money (although I still didn't agree with her). There are also a few things that have happened between Diana and Lucy in the time Lucy and Ollie have been married, which, from Lucy's point of view, look needlessly cruel and the actions of a mother in law who doesn't care about her at all. However, when shown from Diana's point of view, there are sometimes mitigating factors. Diana is very cold - towards everyone except Tom - and when she does think something nice, like how Lucy is a good mother, she doesn't say it, when saying it would go so far towards mending fractured relationships. 

I didn't like all the secrets everyone was keeping, which are slowly metered out throughout the book in a way that I found quite frustrating. I won't spoil the ending, but I thought the reason the killer had for killing Diana was a very frustrating one and one which is a bit of a cliche, which I didn't like. 

I also thought that some of the timelines didn't match up. Lucy and Ollie are supposed to have been married for ten years, but had Archie soon after being married, and he is only six. Ollie seems to age funnily throughout, ending up at forty-eight years old - if he and Lucy were the same age, then she was very old to be having three children without difficulty. Lucy at one point orders an Uber and something else which seemed really anachronistic to say it was supposed to be several years earlier than the publication of the book. Then there's two year old Edie, who has a vocabulary far surpassing any two year old I've ever met. Mistakes like this just seemed sloppy and irritating.

I'm giving this three out of five. I enjoyed the read, but the above criticisms overshadowed it somewhat. 

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