When Catriona's eight-year-old daughter Daisy shows flu symptoms that won't go away, the London doctors, stymied, start looking for the answer in Cat's own intentions. Hysteria? Munchausen's Syndrome, where mothers actually make their children sick to magnify their own importance? After all, Cat's "not like other mothers, with their anoraks and certainty." All too soon, the normal paradoxes of life ("they hurt because they were getting better") sound like sick ironies instead of wry realities. For someone like Cat, who has tried to ignore her own mother's early neglect and rejection, the idea that she would harm her daughter is especially harrowing. Change that to catastrophic when Cat's husband begins to share the doctor's fears.
When postcards start arriving from her mother, who has cobbled together a new life in Germany, Cat is driven to hide them, along with her memories of a childhood spent under the control of sadistic or careless social workers. Only when events begin to lurch out of control does she begin to make contact with the past she hoped she could hide under her perfect wife and mother disguise.
English author Margaret Leroy has written several nonfiction books, and two earlier novels. Her London setting is colorfully authentic, with its own surprises, like the suburban foxes that form a recurrent motif of subtle threat to comfortable lifestyles. She certainly does not make the argument that when you are sick your child will also get sick, and when you heal, your child will immediately get better. But at the very least, facing one's problems head-on may reveal helpful clues to a viable recovery for both mother and child, and that's how it works in this singular, graceful novel.
Maude McDaniel writes from Maryland.