Tuesday, 11 June 2019

Review: 'A Good Enough Mother' by Bev Thomas

Novels draw in their audience by their title, and Bev Thomas’ A Good Enough Mother caught me
straightaway. There is no room for mothers to mess up, and when they do it usually has horrible
consequences in literature. Just think of one of the most divisive books in the past decade or so, We
Need to Talk About Kevin. Motherhood gone wrong is a taboo still for many and I was very happy to pick up a book that makes a real psychological effort to expose that taboo while telling a riveting story. Thanks to Faber & Faber and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 4/4/2019
Publisher: Faber & Faber

The most dangerous lies are the ones we tell ourselves. 
Dr Ruth Hartland rises to difficult tasks. She is the director of a highly respected trauma therapy unit. She is confident, capable and excellent at her job. Today she is preoccupied by her son Tom's disappearance. So when a new patient arrives at the unit - a young man who looks shockingly like Tom - she is floored. 
As a therapist, Ruth knows exactly what she should do in the best interests of her client, but as a mother she makes a very different choice - a decision that will have profound consequences. A gripping and deeply intelligent psychological thriller for fans of Apple Tree Yard, A Good Enough Mother promises to be as big as Lullaby.
The title of A Good Enough Mother does more than just set the reader up for a thriller about mothers
and their children. The concept of the “good enough mother” was introduced by the psychologist D.W. Winnicott in his book Playing and Reality. The good enough mother starts out completely adapting to her baby’s needs, sacrificing her own needs to fulfill those of the child. But as the baby gets older, small frustrations are introduced, as a way of introducing the external reality of the world. Whether it’s letting the baby cry for a bit before calming it at night or not responding immediately to a demanding cry for food or attention, these little frustrations are, according to Winnicott key to developing a healthy relationship with the external world. It keeps the child both within a world of illusion, where a need imagined is a need fulfilled, but also lets them come to terms with the outside world. In A Good Enough Mother Bev Thomas, herself a clinical psychologist, deftly weaves in the psychology of letting go and facing the hardships of the outside world into her narrative of Dr. Ruth Hartland, a mother who cannot let go. The strong basis of the book in psychology means that the A Good Enough Mother stands out from many other psychological thrillers by actually considering psychology.

A Good Enough Mother is a slow burner, even though catastrophe seems inevitable. As the reader we
know it’s all going to go wrong as Ruth, our unreliable narrator, is writing from hindsight and a sense of doom and inevitability pervades her tone. Even as she retells her story Ruth seems to be unable to truly admit where she has gone wrong. Ruth is a heart-wrenching protagonist because as the reader you can't help but feel sorry for her. Her disappeared son is a gaping wound in her life, a wound she keeps under wraps but can't truly hide. And then a new patient arrives who rips away the small security she had and she finds herself utterly at a loss, acting out, defending what she knows she shouldn't. It all leads to a tragic climax that doesn't really provide a happy ending, although there are notes of forgiveness and understanding at the end which are beautiful. In some ways A Good Enough Mother reminded me of  The Babadook, a movie that very much emphasizes the importance of working through trauma and loss, as well as setting boundaries. 

Bev Thomas is an excellent writer. As I mentioned above, it is the deep psychological foundation of this novel that sets it apart from many other psychological thrillers, yet it is undeniable that Bev Thomas weaves an incredibly story in A Good Enough Mother. There are moments of unbearable tenderness in this novel, contrasted with some truly horrible scenes. What I appreciated most about this novel was that Thomas never once takes the issue of mental health lightly. From her experience she knows the trouble it causes and there are a few scenes between Ruth and one of her patients that go very deep yet never lose their purpose to the plot. The aftershocks of violence, the need for understanding, the compassion humans are capable off. It is all described in A Good Enough Mother with a rare but stunning kindness.

I give this novel...

4 Universes!

A Good Enough Mother is a stunning novel that goes much deeper than you'd initially expect. Excellently written with a kindness to its characters, this novel will stay with you for a long time.


  1. Funny, I reviewed this for Shelf Awareness nut with a completely different cover!

    I liked it, too, and you described that creeping sense of foreboding well. Great review!


    2019 Big Book Summer Challenge

    1. Thank you for your kind comment! And I always love exploring the different covers for different editions, I feel like each brings something else to a novel!