“We are together all day but we never have time, if you know what I mean?” Claire Kilroy throws the reader into the depths of those overwhelming and often isolating first few months of first-time motherhood with her sharply observed and brutally honest and uncompromising narrative.
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BY CLAIRE KILROY
"We are together all day but we never have time, if you know what I mean?"
Claire Kilroy throws the reader into the depths of those overwhelming and often isolating first few months of first time motherhood with her sharply observed and brutally honest narrative. 'Soldier Sailor' resembles a stream of consciousness, a jumble of wonderful observations and terrifying insights of those early, unfamiliar first weeks when the realisation of looking after a totally vulnerable and dependent human being strikes like a bolt of lightning.
Written in the third person, the narrator, Soldier, is a first-time mother. The story opens when she is beyond exhaustion and seemingly beaten - is she really going to abandon her baby son, her Sailor, on a cliff path in the cold and give up, believing the most loving act she could do is to end her life and set him free? “Should I remind you again how lonely I was, Sailor, how terribly lonely? I didn’t know my own mind. I certainly did not know it that night.” This is not meant to be morbid, far from it, it is an illustration of how the insanity of tiredness can lead to recklessness.
Grappling with both overwhelming love and resentment, Kilroy addresses the strain early motherhood puts on a marriage as bitterness sets in due to the never-ending exhaustion and exasperation Soldier has with her ‘useless’ husband. There are so many recognisable, extremely funny moments, none more so than when the couple are spending a Saturday in IKEA to buy Sailor’s first bed on his, but apparently not her, 'day off'. There are those moments when her fury at her husband's badly timed tips on parent advice become irrational to those more tender moments when she messages him loving pictures of their baby son.
The book also touches on the effects that motherhood has on the role of women as she begins to lose her identity. It is when Soldier unexpectedly meets an old friend, someone with whom she can recall her fun past and share tips on parenthood, that life begins to take on meaning again. Yet even as she emerges from this sleep deprived relentless period of being a mother, Kilroy reminds us that the love for a child will forever be all consuming. A powerful acknowledgement that motherhood is a job you are perhaps never qualified for and one that never ends.
There are so many wonderfully observed gems that any mother or parent in charge of a child will recognise, from walking out in the night in her pyjamas, the lengthy routines to get food down, the ridiculous car seat straps for which two hands are never enough to the humiliation of mother and toddler clubs when your own child doesn’t conform. What stands this book apart though, is the way Kilroy merges all these moments into one long stream of consciousness so you can feel and share the tiredness, overwhelming love and resentment as vividly as she does. The prose is truthful and charged and will either bring back strong memories for some or show any new mothers that they are not alone.