Tuesday, November 28, 2017

A Hundred Small Lessons by Ashley Hay

This book called to me with its story of a new mother starting over in a new house while the woman who had lived there for sixty years is learning to let go of the life she had. Having moved so often, settling into a new place and home, I connected to the story right away.

This is a book that delves underneath the surface of a life, past the mundane externals to hopes and dreams and fears, to memories and how they are skewed over time, and to the losses that come with age.

It is a story of mothers and daughters, of expectations and the misunderstandings that drive them apart. And of fathers who, amazed, suddenly realize everything has changed and that a child can turn their life upside down with love. And all the lessons that we learn about who we are and who we thought we were.

Author Ashley Hay was pregnant when she and her husband moved from Sydney to Brisbane, Australia. She found herself in a world where the landscape itself was alien as was her new role as mother. This influenced her to explore the theme of motherhood in her new novel, "imagining one woman (Lucy Kiss) arriving in motherhood, as another woman (Elsie Gormley) prepared to leave it."

Lucy, her husband Ben, and their child Tom have moved into Elsie's home of over sixty years. Elsie at age 89 had a fall and her children moved her into a senior home. Ben's work keeps him away, and Lucy becomes overwhelmed with motherhood's fears and concerns. She is curious about Elsie, hyer-aware of her legacy in the house, and she finds mementos left behind that give her a glimpse into Elsie's mysterious life. Lucy is convinced that Elsie, or someone, has been entering the house.

Elsie loved being a mother, putting other's needs first, but her daughter Elaine wants a different life. And yet a young Elaine marries and has a child, her life choices chaffing like a manacle. The love of Elsie's life and Elaine's father, Clem, never aspired to be more. Neither parent could help Elaine find her wings.

Scenes that allowed me into the character's inner lives stunned me, such as when Ben suddenly understands his wife's obsessive fears about protecting their child and when he thinks he sees an intruder in the house, his worst fears arising. I loved that Hay explored Clem, Ben, and Tom as well as the women.

The title of the novel comes from a poem that Lucy had once read to Ben, and reads to Tom, The Story by Michael Ondaatje:

For his first forty days a child
is given dreams of previous lives.
Journeys, winding paths,
a hundred small lessons
and then the past is erased.

I think that Hay's novel will be appreciated by readers who enjoy connecting with characters and the slow revelations that come with experience.

I received a free ebook from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for a fair and unbiased review.

A Hundred Small Lessons, A Novel
by Ashley Hay
Atria Books
Pub Date 28 Nov 2017 
Hardcover $26.00

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