What Was Left by Eleanor Limprecht

This is one of the best debut novels I have read in a long time. It tells the story of Rachel, who is feeling alone in the sleeplessness, worry and physical pain of new motherhood. She finds it difficult to reconnect with her husband after a complicated pregnancy and traumatic birth. More importantly, she finds it impossible to connect to her baby, Lola, and is increasingly frightened by the intrusive thoughts she has about hurting her. Everyone she meets – including the all-knowing maternal and child-health nurse who, warning of the evils of formula, proclaims that her mothers’ group is only for breastfeeding mothers – are only willing to discuss socially acceptable feelings around motherhood.

Often when a main character is besieged by doubt and insecurity she can seem ‘whiny’, but Limprecht avoids this pitfall by moving the plot along at a decent pace. Abruptly, Rachel leaves Lola with her husband and travels overseas to find her own father, Gunther, who left her when she was six. Interspersed with Rachel’s story is that of her mother, Judy, and Judy’s relationship with Gunther. Judy is a strong and determined woman who completed her medical training while Gunther was a stay-at-home father to Rachel. This time makes for Rachel’s most pleasant memories, and she is bereft at the idea that Gunther would have left without a second thought.

As in many books, the travel narrative mirrors Rachel’s internal journey. The search for her father is aided by a man she meets in a backpacker hostel, moving the story into another interesting and unexpected subplot about the nature of love and the cost of telling the truth. Limprecht’s book is not over-populated with characters, and each is multi-dimensional and credible.

What Was Left is a riveting novel that examines ideas of motherhood, identity and the lies people tell to protect each other.

Annie Condon is a bookseller at Readings Hawthorn and a convenor of Readings’ Contemporary Book Club.