Welcome to the next in our series of Curtis Brown 120 blog posts, these blogs include exclusive interviews with authors, agents and publishers; writing tips; industry insights – and much more besides.
In honour of Mother’s Day, our agents at Curtis Brown and C&W are celebrating our favourite mothers in fiction – the wonderful and the terrible, the heartbreaking and the hilarious . . .
There are so many wonderful literary mums, but Lottie in All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews is one of my favourites. She is breathtakingly vivid, fiercely loving and completely heart-breaking in her efforts to steady and save her daughters. She (and Yoli, and Elf) stayed with me for a long time after I read that book.
My favourite fictional mother has to be Molly Hayes from Anna McPartlin’s life-affirming novel, The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes. Molly Hayes is a particular type of Irish mother; an absolute rock on the outside and soft as anything inside. Her love for her daughter shines through in this courageous, funny and heart-breaking celebration of life and everything we do for each other.
And good news for fans, old and new: Molly will be back in a new novel in 2020!
The Bolter from Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love because, well, everything – the glamour, the chutzpah, the lack of moral fibre. The fortitude shown by Fanny in the face of such bare-faced narcissism makes her that much more sympathetic and human. All a great supporting character should be. Almost as good as Edina in Absolutely Fabulous.
I’m going really upmarket here when I say Moominmamma in the Moomins… is she’s a hippo? Is she an alien? No one is entirely sure but she’s one helluva parent to her crazy brood.
I have a love-hate relationship with Katie Nolan from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith – as a mother, she’s incredibly flawed. She chooses favourites between her children, and she’s often disappointing as a mother to Francie, but ultimately, I have to admire the way she keeps the family together while living in poverty. I love the description of how she manages to make meals out of scraps of bread and discarded meat, and gives the kids the luxury of condensed milk next to their cup of bitter coffee.
Vivi Walker (Queen Dancing Creek) from Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells is an amazingly complex character. Her relationship with her daughter, Sidda is fraught but ultimately resolved. And it has given me and my mum our own shorthand, ‘remember the elephant’, to focus on the wonderful moments rather than the negative ones.
My personal favorite is Mrs. Quimby from the Ramona books by Beverly Cleary, and though she’s not technically a ‘mother’, Marilla Cuthbert from the Anne books is also wonderful.
Nora Webster by Colm Tóibín is still one of the books that haunts me the most. In late 1960s rural Ireland, Nora – mother of four – suddenly finds herself a widow. Written in Tóibín’s typically elegant prose, the book is a portrait of grief, of a changing Ireland and the resolve of a woman who finds the strength to support herself and her family alone.
Topaz (the stepmother) in Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle is my fave. She’s so brilliantly pretentious and yet warm and grounded.
I call my Mum Mrs Bennet so I guess that would be my vote . . .
Does Miss Havisham count?! Or her polar twin, Anna Madrigal from the Tales of the City series? For some reason I am obsessed with the idea of matriarchal but bizarre adoptive mothers . . .
Enid Lambert from Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections deserves a mention – she’s long-suffering, maddening, and still thinks her children are children but no one loves Christmas like her and when she gets the whole family back together in December you can’t NOT be pleased.
It has to be Mother from Arthur Ransome’s Swallows and Amazons. Kind, firm, and deeply practical, she is a dispenser of grog and good advice, a rower of boats and raiser of children who are decidedly not duffers.
Last but not least, a double entry from Sue Armstrong and Sophie Lambert, who share an office AND a favourite fictional mother: Audra Cavanagh in Standard Deviation by Katherine Heiny. She is unforgettably hilarious, heartbreaking and true.
We’d love to hear from you which mothers you love best, drive you crazy or break your heart – tweet us @CBGBooks!
And a posy of glorious spring flowers to real mothers everywhere.