The Mothers

Rod Jones

The Mothers
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The Mothers

Rod Jones

That’s what life is about, at the bottom of things, she thought: women keeping babies.

In 1917, while the world is at war, Alma and her children are living in a sleep-out at the back of Mrs Lovett’s house in working-class Footscray. When Alma falls pregnant, her daughter Molly is born in secret. As Molly grows up, there is a man who sometimes follows her on her way to school.

Anna meets Neil in 1952 at her parents' shack at Cockatoo. She later enters a Salvation Army home for unmarried mothers, but is determined to keep her baby.

Fitzroy, 1975. Student life. Things are different now, aren’t they? Cathy and David are living together, determined not to get married. Against the background of the tumultuous events of the sacking of the Whitlam government, a new chapter is added to the family’s story.

The Mothers is a book about secrets. It interweaves the intimate lives of three generations of Australian women who learn that it’s the stories we can’t tell that continue to shape us and make us who we are.


I vividly remember Rod Jones’ 1986 novel Julia Paradise, the story of a Scottish psychoanalyst and his eponymous patient set in pre-war China. It quite justifiably caused a sensation with its exploration of female sexuality and earned the then young author accolades. The Mothers is Jones’ sixth novel. It’s a quietly moving story of three secrets and three women whose lives intersect over three generations.

When her husband brings home his mistress, Alma takes her two children and leaves. It’s 1917 in the midst of the war in working-class Footscray. Alma has nowhere to go and a young man takes pity on her and takes her home where his widowed mother offers the young family shelter. When Alma falls pregnant her daughter, Molly, is born secretly and in shame.

Many years later, Anna falls in love with the dashing young man from the family next door; when she becomes pregnant, Neil abandons her and her family shunts her off to a Salvation Army home for unmarried mothers where she is forced to give up her baby.

Meanwhile, Alma’s daughter Molly is childless and yearns for a child. Years later, all three families’ lives intersect, offering some hope that the secrets and their attendant sadness will come to some positive resolution. If you like Colm Toíbín’s work, I’m sure you will love this book. The Mothers is a terrific achievement for Jones and will, I hope, introduce him to many new readers.

Mark Rubbo is the Managing Director of Readings.

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