ADULT ONSET – Ann-Marie MacDonald

adult onset

Available now from Sceptre

Source: Publisher ARC

Mary Rose McKinnon has two children with her partner Hilary and a fractured relationship with her mother Dolly; she also has issues with anger management and lives in fear of hurting the children and these feelings seem somehow rooted in a part of her childhood she has trouble remembering.
Is Dolly – the kind of big personality who makes all Mary Rose’s friends, and even waiters in coffee shops, exclaim ‘I love your Mum!’ – really harbouring a dark secret about what caused Mary Rose’s childhood injuries, and is Mary Rose doomed to follow the same path with her own children?
ADULT ONSET is a heartbreaking, hilarious, hugely satisfying novel about family ties and the joy and agony of parenthood. Ann-Marie MacDonald gets under the reader’s skin and gives voice to the feelings we have all experienced but may never have examined.

My husband took our two sons fishing on the weekend. It was ‘boys day – no girls allowed’. Some mothers might take offence at this, or feel left out and unwanted – I, however, can think of little worse than sitting and staring at still water for hours on end in 30 degree heat, and so I relished in those few peaceful hours, sitting in the sunny garden, relaxing and reading Adult Onset.

Of course, I did have a moment of worry. Our youngest is only 5 and a bit of a tearaway. Could he really sit patiently in the way only a good fisherman can? Or would he get bored? Start running about a little too close to the water’s edge? Slip and fall into the unknown depths? Would my husband be able to jump in and grab him in time? Should I have gone to ensure everybody would be safe and well?

At what point does maternal concern turn into neurotic panic? When does the glass go from being half-full to smashed into a million tiny pieces across the floor? And what events or circumstance could be behind these trains of thought?

Enter our protagonist, Mary Rose McKinnon. Mister, as she is affectionately known, spends the majority of her day at home with her 2-year-old daughter Maggie. Maggie is a handful – stubborn, independent, and defiant – and an expert at raising Mister’s temper. Mister doesn’t feel the same loving bond with Maggie as she does with her 5-year-old son Matthew, and her anger sometimes brings her all too close to hurting her young daughter. And yet she is forever imagining the worst scenarios in which her children are terribly harmed, and so she spends her days trying to child-proof their lives.

Mister has some issues, that’s for sure. Unfortunately she isn’t very certain about what those issues are or where they stem from. There’s something though, just on the periphery of her memory, both glaringly obvious and a complete mystery. If she could just figure out what it was – would she become a better mother? A better wife? Would she finally be able to repair the damaged relationship she has with her own parents? Would she stop envisaging the worst possible scenarios with regards to her children’s safety? Would she stop having such horrific visions? Would she be able to control her anger the next time Maggie pushes that button?

This did make for quite uncomfortable reading sometimes, mainly because I know I am nothing like this woman as a mother, and yet sometimes I found myself relating to some of her less outrageous moments. Although there was a lot of delusion and neurosis peppered throughout the book, it was not attention-grabbing and gaudy, but subtle and yet intense.

MacDonald also cleverly takes the reader through a walkabout of Mister’s psyche via Mister’s own fictional creations – Mister has already written two books as part of a fantasy trilogy – and any Freudian would have a field day with Mister’s work, I know I particularly enjoyed the psychoanalysis of these parts.

The reader is also taken back in time to Mister’s childhood, and we get to look in on her own mother’s experience of motherhood and the debilitating tragedy that is the loss of a child – and that thing that almost every new mother is terrified of; post-natal depression.

One thing that did leave me wanting was the ending to this story. I’ve learned that I need a good showdown at the end of a book that has consumed me so, but then, life isn’t always full of showdowns is it? Not everybody gets finality and closure… sometimes you have to just get on with it.

Adult Onset is a beautifully lyrical account that examines some of those aspects of motherhood that aren’t all ‘floured hands and warm bosom’; how in some mothers maternal concern is indeed replaced by neurotic panic; and how events of our own history, big and small, can have such a lasting and monumental influence on everything.

Oh, and if you were wondering, our youngest had a wonderful time fishing with his dad and brother – he didn’t catch anything, but thoroughly enjoyed eating most of the sweetcorn ‘bait’!

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