A powerful, dramatic and disturbing new novel about the long shadow cast by the memory of a dead mother on the life of her daughter another brilliant exploration of family mythology and guilt from a novelist who reigns supreme in her territory.
A dying woman leaves a sealed box for her baby daughter. Years later, as a young woman, the daughter Catherine finds the mysterious box, addressed to her, full of unexplained objects three feathers, an exotic seashell, a painting, a mirror, two prints, an address book, a map, a hat, a rucksack, and a necklace and she finally starts to unpack, literally and metaphorically, the story of a woman whom she never knew but who has cast a long shadow over her life. Having a 'perfect', beautiful, dead mother has been a heavy burden to carry, and one she has tended to resent. But now she sets off on the trail of her 'perfect' mother, trying to unravel the truth about a woman who turns out to be more complex, reckless and surprising than her family have painted her. And Catherine has to face up to the truths about herself and the damage that guilt and silence have done to her own relationships. Only when she has come to terms with her dead mother, can she move on, to take up the challenges of her own young life.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I have always enjoyed Margaret Forster¿s biographies and memoirs; two that stick in my mind particularly are her biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and her family memoir called Hidden Lives. Aside from her novel Lady¿s Maid, which is more like a biography, The Memory Box is the first novel of hers I¿ve read.The story is simple: a young woman named Catherine, an only child, when cleaning out her parents¿ attic after they have died comes across a memory box put together for her by her ¿real¿ mother who died when Catherine was six months old. The mother she knew and loved all her life was actually her stepmother, a woman her father married one year after his first wife died. There¿s no mystery in these details, since Catherine was told about her ¿real¿ mother vs. her stepmother at an early age. The twist is that all her life, Catherine had been unwilling to hear stories about her mother Susannah from people in the family who thought she would want to know about her. Now, 30-something Catherine finds that she would like to know something about her mother, but the people who could have told her about Susannah are dead. Hence her interest in using the memory box to puzzle out her mother¿s story.The story is told in the first person from Catherine¿s point of view. Except for her interactions with family members, like her mother¿s sister Isabella who is a very sour, unapproachable woman who didn¿t like her sister, Catherine actions, musings, and memories carry the book. Catherine is a complicated personality. She¿s introverted and introspective, moody and ¿difficult¿ much of the time¿and she knows that about herself. I would say that Margaret Forster took something of a risk creating a narrator with Catherine¿s personality, since introverts aren¿t particularly well understood by the general population--usually they are dismissed as simply being shy people who would love to be extroverted if they only knew now. However, risky or not, I find Catherine¿s personality and response to the world to be very appropriate to the tone of the rest of the story. Forster explores themes of memory, motherhood, family relationships--including the nature of family secrets and mythology and how relationships are distorted by them--and finally, of self-discovery.If you¿re looking for a mystery a la Agatha Christie, look elsewhere. If you¿re looking for a quiet, introspective read, you¿ll find it here.
Forster has an extraordinary tendency to make her first-person narrators unsympathetic. She shows this here, and in "Over" , "The Battle for Christabel" and "Hidden Lives".