Books for people who find Mother’s Day difficult

The cookbooks are coming out en masse, there are dressing gowns in every department store catalogue, and cards with flowers on them being displayed at the front of stationery shops and newsagents. Mother’s Day is coming… And it’s almost impossible to avoid.

For many people, the lead-up to Mother’s Day is a time that fills them with complicated feelings including guilt or grief. Here are some books for those people who – for whatever reason – dread the arrival of Mother’s Day every year.


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For people who have lost their mother…

When Leigh Van Der Hoorst lost her own Mum to cancer in 2008 it rocked her to the core. Without My Mum chronicles this period in her life, and describes how she moved through the grief to redefine herself. With contributions from many inspiring women around the world including Jools Oliver, Megan Gale, and Lisa Wilkinson, Without My Mum is a book that provides solace and wisdom from other motherless daughters.

(Interestingly, the first Mother’s Day was held in 1908 by the social activist, Anna Jarvis, as a way of recognising the anniversary of her own mother’s death.)


For further reading try…

  • After is Nikki Gemmell’s brave and devastating memoir exploring what happened after her elderly mother decided to end her own life.
  • Wild is the true story of a young woman who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail after struggling with her own mother’s death.
  • Grief is the Thing with Feathers is an acclaimed novel about a widower and his young sons, which looks at how grief informs – and is informed by – love, art, and language.
  • In The Quiet is a radiant debut novel from Australian writer Eliza Henry-Jones. It tells the story of a grieving family as seen through the eyes of Cate Carlton, their mother and wife, who has recently died.

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For people who have a difficult relationship with their mother…

The protagonist in Elizabeth Strout’s My Name Is Lucy Barton is recovering in hospital when her mother – who the daughter has been estranged from for many years – unexpectedly appears at her bedside. This novel, from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Olive Kitteridge powerfully and concisely captures the complex dynamics that thrive in the relationship between a mother and a daughter.

You can read our review of this novel here.


For further reading try…

  • Hot Milk explores the strange and monstrous nature of motherhood – testing the bonds of parent and child to breaking point.
  • In Mary Karr’s bestselling memoir of her childhood, The Liar’s Club, she describes her mother as ‘bona fide maniac’ who nearly kills her daughters whilst in the grip of a metal breakdown.
  • When Jeanette Winterson was 16 she was kicked out of home for falling in love with a girl. Her mother asked her, “Why be happy when you could be normal?” – a question that gives this profound memoir its provocative title.

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For people struggling to have children…

Australian novelist Julia Leigh’s Avalanche is an intensely personal narrative of loss, hope, and longing for a child. This devastating memoir is written in the aftermath of the author’s decision to stop infertility treatment, and explores her raw desire, suffering, strength – and, in the end, transformation to a different kind of love.

Avalanche also delves into the reality of infertility treatments and allows the reader a glimpse into how the desire for a child has been transformed into a billion-dollar industry.


For further reading try…

  • Liane Moriaty’s bestselling novel, What Alice Forgot, is about a woman trying to piece the last 10 years of her life together after suffering a breakdown. The narrative is told in part by her sister, Elizabeth, whose journey through infertility is realistically and sympathetically portrayed.

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For people who want to read about adoption…

Susannah McFarlane was given up for adoption in 1965. Fifty years later she and her birth mother, Robin Leuba, were reunited, and the two embarked on the difficult and often fraught journey towards building a relationship.

In Heartlines, Robin and Susannah share their letters, emails, texts and reactions during this reunion period, and explore themes of family, motherhood, loss, belonging, hope, and courage.


For further reading try…

  • Becoming Kirrali Lewis is the story of a young Aboriginal woman who was adopted by a white family in the 1960’s. Now on the cusp of adulthood Kirrali embarks on a journey to find her birth parents. Telling both Kirrali’s story and that of her mother Cherie, author Jane Harrison explores adoption from both perspectives.
  • Ann Patchett’s novel, Run, looks at interracial adoption and absent mothers – and questions how what constitutes ‘family’ can be different than what is considered the norm.

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For people who have conflicting feelings about motherhood…

Elena Ferrante’s writing often deals with the difficult emotions that surround family life, but her third novel The Lost Daughter specifically addresses the idea of a life stolen by the demands of motherhood – the ‘bond that strangles’ as she describes it.

When her two daughters make the decision to move to Canada to be with their father, middle-aged Leda discovers that, instead of feeling lonely and isolated as she expected, she actually feels liberated. Whilst on holiday by herself she becomes entangled in the lives of a young family she sees on the beach, and through them she is forced to confront her own complex feelings about motherhood.


For further reading try…

  • Jessica Friedman’s collection of essays, Things That Helped, chronicles her journey through postpartum depression after the birth of her son.
  • Told from the perspective of an unnamed American woman, Dept. of Speculation, addresses the boredom and frustrations of parenthood in beautifully crafted fragments.
  • Stephanie Bishop won the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction for her profound novel, The Other Side of the World: a young mother struggling with realities of her new life in a new land with two small children in tow.

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For people who are happy to report that they don’t actually want to have children…

Making the conscious decision not to have children is still a taboo topic in our modern society. People who make this decision are frequently questions about their reasons, and sometimes even described as ‘selfish’.

In Selfish, Shallow, and Self-Absorbed, sixteen writers explain why they have chosen not to take the path towards parenthood, and argue for the right to redefine what it means to have a fulfilled life.


For further reading try…

  • Spinster is a celebration of the single life. Cultural critic Kate Bolick introduces a cast of pioneering women from the last century whose genius, tenacity, and flair for drama have emboldened Bolick to fashion her life on her own terms.
  • In Vivian Gornick’s memoir, The Odd Woman and the City, she candidly talks about constructing a life that doesn’t revolve around relationships or motherhood.

Lian Hingee is the digital marketing manager for Readings.

The Lost Daughter

The Lost Daughter

Elena Ferrante, Ann Goldstein

$22.99Buy now

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