Mothers and Daughters again…

Clara’s Daughter by Meike Ziervogel

The relationships between mothers and daughters, or daughters and their mothers – whichever way around you want to put it, is obviously something that fascinates Meike Ziervogel.

Her first novella, published away from her own Peirene publishing house was also about a mother and daughter, and the daughter’s own daughter. Magda, based on the life of that Magda – Goebbels that is – is an immensely powerful novella that looked hard at the dysfunctional relationship between the Nazi wife and her own mother, (read my review here).

Ziervogel’s second novella, Clara’s Daughter is a contemporary story set in leafy North London and may not have a famous protagonist, but is none the less powerful for that. Michele is a successful businesswoman, yet feels defined by her relationship with her ageing mother as Clara’s Daughter. Michele’s own children are grown-up and have flown the nest and now her job and her mother taking over again from her childrens’ needs have put Michele’s marriage under a terrible strain. Michele feels increasingly trapped – something will have to give, but Michele can’t let it be her.

Then Jim betrays her with a younger woman, and she starts to snap…

I take a pencil and snap it in half, just because I have to do something. I can’t sit here and do nothing. Then I am still, and the house is still, and I know it wasn’t enough simply to break a pencil. I want to do more. So I take the metal pen holder, turn slightly on my chair and throw it straight through the open door across the balcony and into the garden. The clattering noise as it hits the patio tells me I have achieved my aim. I get to my feet and pick up the two cushions from the chair and fling them into the garden too.

Having bagged up his clothes and got the need to throw things out of her system, Michele retaliates by phoning the builder and commissioning the conversion of their basement into a granny flat, something Jim hadn’t wanted (after having a fall, they had planned to move her mother into a retirement home). Her sister Hilary will be delighted with Michele taking on their mother…

This all unfolds within the first twenty pages of this novella. We really do get to feel Michele’s anger. Later we’ll see other sides of her, especially once her mother is installed. Clara, naturally enough, resents being moved out of her own home and her growing confusion with having to face new things is scarily real.  I have to say that the author absolutely nails it again – they all love each other, but find living together even more of a strain.

Reading about this unhappy family does make you stop and think about your own situation. It’s not an easy read; there are many elements in this story that undoubtedly will have happened, or may happen later to any of us. Meike successfully makes us sympathise with and understand both mother and daughter’s points of view right through to the story’s moving conclusion.

If mothers and daughters are something of an obsession for the author, the novella form is another. As many of you will know, Ziervogel is the founder of Peirene Press which publishes novellas in translation, in addition to those she writes herself. I’m a big fan of novellas and short novels, they allow a story to be told in full without diversions getting in the way of the arc and, for me, they are more satisfying than short stories. I’ll stick my neck out and christen Meike ‘Queen of the Novella’. I hope to read many more, whether written by her or published by her. Meanwhile I’d highly recommend that you get your hands on Clara’s Daughter. (9/10)

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Source: Publisher – Thank you! To explore further on Amazon UK, click below:
Clara’s Daughter by Meike Ziervogel. Salt Publishing, September 15th 2014, paperback original.

11 thoughts on “Mothers and Daughters again…

    • Annabel (gaskella) says:

      Wasn’t it just! I had wondered whether Clara’s daughter would have some of the same power – it does, having that very close to the bone feeling.

  1. Guy Savage says:

    There’s a new bio of Goebbels coming out soon. Close to 1000 pages…
    Didn’t Stu review Clara’s Daughter recently? I think that’s how it arrived on my TBR list.

    • Annabel (gaskella) says:

      I think I’ll give the Goebbels biog a miss! If Stu reviewed it, I’ve missed his write-up – off to see what he thought…

  2. Denise says:

    This was reviewed in the paper and I almost dismissed it because it was such a short review (although positive – but not specifically so), but I will take another look now.

    • Annabel (gaskella) says:

      It’s a short book – so you can’t say much about what happens. She absolutely nails the generational predicaments of middle and older age. I’d highly recommend it.

  3. Desperate reader says:

    Absolutely recommend this book as well, have just written about it and realise that what I might have said has been slightly constrained by relationships with my own mother and sister – so yes, I think she nails a lot of things (not that my mother is anything like Clara – my grandmother on the other hand…) I Also thought this book was generally much more accomplished than Magda, really looking forward to seeing what comes next.

  4. Andrew Blackman says:

    Nice review, Annabel. I just read this one myself, and really liked it. Clever structure, and really intriguing characters. I liked how it was clear that the characters loved each other, but they weren’t able to express it.

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