Saturday, 3 December 2016

Book East – Brilliant Books by Brilliant Women

The Glass Mother, a memoir by Rosie Jackson, is the next to be reviewed in our series of brilliant books written by women with connections to this region and published this year. Books you may wish to add to your Christmas list.

In the late seventies and early eighties Rosie Jackson lectured in English Literature at the University of East Anglia in Norwich. She was a bit of a star: young, hard-working and the author of Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion, a study of the fantastic in literature. Friends of mine, who were students at UEA during that period, remember that Fantasy was the book everybody was reading and quoting from in their essays. When I told them I was reviewing the author’s memoir they wanted to know what became of Jackson because she seemed destined for great things like her colleagues Malcolm Bradbury, Angela Carter, and Lorna Sage, but then just disappeared off the radar.

And this is the question that Jackson asks herself time and again throughout her memoir: what happened, why did I vanish myself? Jackson left UEA after five years and, like a detective, investigates and examines why she made that choice, why turn from the career that she put so much effort into building, why abandon financial security, why instead flit from one job and relationship to the next, why?

Her probing causes her to look hard at her childhood and the way she was parented. She examines too her own mothering of her son Adam. Jackson separated from Adam’s father  when Adam was three and her youth and her need to study compelled her to leave her son with his dad. In a reversal of what is still usually the norm the father became primary carer and Jackson had intermittent access to the child. Jackson bravely explores how this act of abandonment skewed her life. She expresses immense regret and shame, and is honest about how her relationship with Adam continues to be fragile to this day.  

Jackson’s writing is precise and sensitive - perhaps on occasion too sensitive - to the thoughts and feelings of those friends, family, and acquaintances she has encountered over the years. It’s perhaps a little distanced too when recounting how she becomes a follower of the Indian spiritual master Meher Baba and what her devotions require of her. Jackson visits India often but she fleetingly describes the delights of these journeys into the spiritual, instead choosing to weight the memoir towards her peripatetic life here in England.

The Glass Mother follows a linear, chronological path, which  veers brilliantly off course towards the end into the wonderful titular chapter about nurturing and inheritance. Ultimately it is a fascinating read about a woman who chooses personal discovery over a ‘neurotic academic life’.

Pub Unthank Books,  November 2016 

Reviewed by Lynne Bryan, author of a short story collection, Envy At The Cheese Handout (published by Faber & Faber), and the novels Gorgeous and Like Rabbits (Sceptre). Lynne is co-organiser of Words And Women.

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