Mothering Sunday is a rich and compulsive novel, opening in 2019 with one mother, Ally, finding out that she was adopted as a baby. Transported to 1963, we meet many more mothers, each complex, flawed and entirely motivated by love for their child. Following Kitty, Ally’s birth mother, we get to know the matriarch Clarissa, who lies to protect her daughter, the father’s mother Dorothy, who has secrets of her own, and Ally’s adoptive mother Bet, who struggles with the knowledge that Kitty didn’t want to give up her child.
‘Transported to 1963, we meet many more mothers, each complex, flawed and entirely motivated by love for their child.’
Kitty’s journey will completely pull you in, from the moment she flees the Crusade of Rescue and Homes for Destitute Catholic Children through to her final decision. Kitty’s controlling parents are certainly antagonists and yet it becomes clear there’s something they’re not telling her. James inspects the question of whether they have their daughter’s best interests at heart with incredible nuance. At the heart of this journey is Kitty’s relationship with the baby’s father Henry, who was adopted by her parents as a child. There are countless secrets and misunderstandings tied up in this love story, challenging the simplicity of their feelings for one another, but it’s this simple connection that drives the narrative through each high and low.
Sara James writes with depth, compassion and easy, vibrant prose. She describes Kitty’s emotions so that anyone can relate: ‘she felt the emptiness swill about – an ache that came and went like an internal tide.’ She immerses you in the sixties world of cream teas and stiff upper lips with well-chosen details, ‘the milk float trundling down the street’ and ‘the bitter smell of London on his suit’. The atmosphere she builds feels so real that as the tension increases you simply can’t put the book down.
‘Sara James writes with depth, compassion and easy, vibrant prose.’
James was inspired by her own family history: ‘I believe the effects of abandonment ripple through generations and I hadn’t realised how this affected me until I started writing. As a mother, I can’t imagine having to give up a child, but it happened to many women in the ’50s and ’60 and still does.’ The novel explores the pain of abandonment for both mothers and daughters and how the relationships beyond these can be transformed too. The topic is always handled with heart and authenticity, and I found myself connecting with each character on a different level.
This is a novel for mothers and for daughters, for anyone who has ever felt rejected, for those letting go and for those holding on. It is an emotive, page turning read with a protagonist you’ll love for her flaws as much as for her kindness.