Susie Boyt’s Loved and Missed is a disarmingly droll tragicomedy about imperfect motherhood and fractured families, generational trauma and the scars of addiction. Unexpected humor, subtle but honest, percolates through the matter-of-fact voice of its engaging narrator and main character.
After the perceived failures that led to her daughter Eleanor’s downward spiral into lifelong drug dependence, 50-something schoolteacher Ruth seeks redemption through raising her granddaughter, Lily. The compact narrative—which nevertheless traverses 15 years—takes flight when the nomadic Eleanor agrees to meet Ruth on a gray Christmas day for a picnic, where Eleanor reveals she is going to have a child. Smash cut to Lily’s frenetic christening (the funniest scene in the book), with Ruth trying to rein in the chaos. She gives Eleanor and Lily’s father, Ben, who is also an addict, 4000 pounds as a ploy to convince them to let her take the baby home with her for a week.
Unsurprisingly, the new parents’ promises of baby purchases and educational savings accounts prove empty. After Ruth discovers a junkie’s corpse in Eleanor and Ben’s bedroom, she swiftly takes unofficial custody of Lily. A de facto mother again, Ruth throws herself into the task and bonds with Lily in ways she never managed with Eleanor. The quotidian story that unspools proves engrossing thanks to Ruth’s stream-of-consciousness musing and the occasional surprising revelation. We come to know Ruth and the other women in her life intimately, and it is their very ordinariness that makes the novel resonate. Eleanor enters the story only sparingly, typifying the pain and disconnect of having an addict in one’s family orbit.
Boyt is a well-established literary voice in Britain—she is the daughter of the painter Lucian Freud and the great-granddaughter of Sigmund—yet Loved and Missed, her seventh novel, is the first book of hers other than her memoir, My Judy Garland Life, to be published in the U.S. With Loved and Missed, she proves herself a perceptive writer who invites readers in with a singular voice that both upends convention and cuts to the heart of the matter.