Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Book review: Living with Mother, Right to the Very End

Marian Jane Williams reviews Living with Mother, Right to the Very End by Michele Hanson, published in paperback Virago, £9.99

“What to do with Mother?”

A question which confronts many of us faced with an aged lone parent who cannot continue living on their own. Luckily my mother, who was in hospital at the time, reached this stage just a few weeks before her death. But father- in-law required almost constant care for a year. He refused to go into hospital and to live with family members, so a rota system was set up to check on him without being too obvious about it. Although the situations were different, the stress the family was under in each case was high. Most of us want to do the best for our parents, but there needs to be a balance if you are to enjoy your own life too. Living with Mother is a positive and hilarious account of how one family coped and found that balance.

Michele Hanson writes a delightful, bitter-sweet tribute to her faultfinding, bossy but vibrant, feisty and very funny mother, who moved into Michele’s home for the last ten years of her life, living her daughter, granddaughter and their many friends. Three generations of women under one roof is not an ideal scenario, family relationships are tested to the brink, but I must admit to a feeling of envy for Hanson’s turbulent, hilarious and obviously very loving household.

The book is compiled from her popular Guardian columns with the result that each chapter is very short – just 2 pages - and wonderfully easy to read. There is a short piece, written by Michele’s daughter, which gives another, perhaps sadder, perspective and also illuminates the tumultuous but loving relationship of granddaughter and grandmother.

Michele Hanson writes with endearing honesty and dark wit about the trials and tribulations of coping with an aged parent, and the tragedy of seeing that parent decline from bossy, forthright, lively head of the household to frail, bedridden, yet courageous old lady who still manages to rule the roost, who wants to die, yet who always manages to defy that final leap and who manages to provide a laugh for them all – even at the end. Somewhat akin to my own mother and, I feel, somewhat akin to many readers’ own circumstances. A delightful book.

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