Published by Hikari Press
Available in Hardback (1 September 2018)
My thanks to Julia Forster of Ruth Killick Publicity for the tour invitation and for providing a pdf copy. I haven’t been able to fit in a review of A Perfect Mother but for the last day of the tour, I have a guest post from Katri Scala on how she created a character who might have suffered from post-partum psychosis.
| About the Book |
A Perfect Mother is a highly ambitious novel of ideas and a powerfully involving drama.’ Derek Johns, author of Ariel: a literary life of Jan Morris.
During a visit to Trieste in Northern Italy to research his long lost great-grandfather, Jacob meets Charlotte and Jane, and the three are forced to confront their individual and shared histories. Their sense of themselves is challenged and they must piece together a future none of them saw coming. A Perfect Mother asks big questions: What do we inherit from the broken histories of our parents and our grandparents and how does this shape our own sense of identity? Can we ever escape the past? Are stories, the ones we are told and the ones we tell, integral to how we know each other and how we love? What does it mean to be a good parent, let alone the perfect mother? A bracing, hypnotic story of mid-life crisis about the complexities of love, relationship and legacy.
Guest Post by Katri Skala
One of the first things I’m asked about when readers get a copy of my novel A Perfect Mother is, ‘why the title?’ The novel is about a middle-aged man, Jacob Bedford, estranged from his wife and living separately to his teenage sons.
The title, I explain, is an ironic riff on the idea of the perfect mother and the nuclear family. It’s inspired by DW Winnicott’s famous phrase, ‘good enough mother.’
One of the themes of the novel is parenting. Although the concept of the traditional nuclear family is evolving, we still seem to collectively focus on the idea of a mother who more closely resembles the ideal Madonna of Renaissance portraiture than we do the scrappy complex heterogenous people who bring us up in today’s complicated world.
I wanted to explore in the novel what the opposite of that idealised Renaissance mother might be like; and what different approaches to family might look like. This led me to do research into mothers who harm their children; and in particular to a condition known as postpartem psychosis. The NHS website describes it as ‘a rare but serious mental health illness that can affect a woman soon after she has a baby. Many women will experience mild mood changes after having a baby, known as the “baby blues”. This is normal and usually only lasts for a few days. But postpartum psychosis is very different from the “baby blues”. It’s a serious mental illness and should be treated as a medical emergency. It’s sometimes called puerperal psychosis or postnatal psychosis.’ The website goes on to elaborate on the symptoms.
I’m not a psychologist, psychiatrist or therapist, therefore had no expert knowledge from which to create a character who might be suffering from the condition. However, I was curious about it; and also interested to learn that often women recover from the condition after suitable psychiatric and therapeutic care but are likely to fall prey to it again with the next birth.
This indicated to me that there was likely to be a hormonal imbalance but I also was interested to discover some accounts in which the mother had suffered earlier episodes of mental illness and had often also suffered in childhood. The psychological and physical seemed to me to meet in this condition, and for a novelist that can provide rich material.
At the start of the novel, Jacob meets two women, Jane and Charlotte. The story is about the unforeseen consequences these two relationships have on his life. It is written entirely from Jacob’s perspective, so we only know as much as he does, and we only know the two women through his lens. This limited perspective put the emphasis on Jacob’s perceptions and reactions; it allowed me to write away from the centre of the drama. Critical to the plot is an event that occurred many years before the start of the novel. Maintaining a close-up third person narration by Jacob creates an unknowability, uncertainty, about what really happened – in keeping with aspects of the condition of puerperal psychosis itself. Although the novel is not about this condition – far from it – I could explore imaginatively aspects of the condition as a kind of extended thought experiment, and feed it into the themes of the novel.
| Author Bio |
Born in France of an American mother and a Viennese father, Katri Skala has lived in the United States and across Europe. She has worked as a senior arts administrator, script editor, and literary editor in the field of new writing in Britain and the US for a range of organisations that include Channel 4, BBC, the Manhattan Theatre Club, the Arvon Foundation, the University of East Anglia and the Writers Centre Norwich. She holds undergraduate and graduate degrees in literature and journalism from Vassar (in the US), Cardiff and the University of East Anglia. She has had published short stories and magazine features. A Perfect Mother is her first novel. She works as a mentor to writers in all genres and at all stages of their writing life.