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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Every Day is Mother's Day

Hilary Mantel

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To purchase Every Day is Mother's Day

Title: Every Day is Mother's Day
Author: Hilary Mantel
Genre: Novel
Written: 1985
Length: 225 pages
Availability: Every Day is Mother's Day - US
Every Day is Mother's Day - UK
Every Day is Mother's Day - Canada
C'est tous les jours la fête des mères - France
  • Mantel wrote a sequel, Vacant Possession (see our review), set a decade after Every Day is Mother's Day

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Our Assessment:

B+ : a slice of England in the mid-1970s, the excellent writing outshining the story

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 29/8/2010 Richard Rayner
The NY Times Book Rev. A 30/4/2000 Kathryn Harrison
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2001 Sally E. Parry
San Francisco Chronicle . 12/3/2000 Janice P. Nimura
Wall St. Journal . 31/3/2000 Merle Rubin

  From the Reviews:
  • "Every Day Is Mother's Day flits about at first, moving slowly while the narrative snowball gets packed. Soon, though, the book acquires a fierce propulsion that drives straight forward into Vacant Possession" - Richard Rayner, The Los Angeles Times

  • "(A) black comedy of such spite that its mordancy could be surpassed only by a sequel, Vacant Possession. It would be hard to overemphasize the mean pleasure to be found in these two books." - Kathryn Harrison, The New York Times Book Review

  • "There is black humor as well in Every Day Is Mother's Day, but little hope." - Sally E. Parry, Review of Contemporary Fiction

  • "This is a grittier reality, in which the most tenuous of past contacts can return to complicate the present." - Janice P. Nimura, San Francisco Chronicle

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Every day may be mother's day, but the parents in this novel don't fare well. Colin Sidney and his sister Florence have shoved their aged mother off to an institution. Isabel Field, a social worker who has an affair with Colin, still lives with her father but it is not the happiest of arrangements: she has to go picking through his clothes for lice after the sordid adventures he goes off on. Colin's wife Sylvia, the next generation of mums, is completely overwhelmed by the horde around her (three kids and counting): her efforts at being a mother can be described as flailing and failing.
       The central parent-child relationship in the book is that of the Axons: Evelyn, a widowed spiritualist, who lives with her apparently borderline retarded daughter, Muriel. (They are the neighbors of Florence -- in fact, it is Evelyn that drives the old Mrs. Sidney over the edge -- and the case worker assigned to them is Isabel). Evelyn completely dominates Muriel, allowing her to interact as little as possible with the outside world, a domineering but scared mother whose actions eventually cost her her life. Muriel does interact some with the outside world -- she manages to get pregnant -- but that doesn't work out very well either.
       Mantel weaves a dark tale from these lives. A number of coincidences make for the events that unfold here. Central among them are that Isabel is the social worker assigned to the Axons (the last in a long line of workers who have mishandled the case), and that she has an affair with Colin. Isabel and Colin meet in a creative writing class (the sole purpose of their attending the class seems to be to allow these two very different characters to meet). They decide to have an affair. Isabel, though fairly strong-willed, isn't sure about her life or her career. Colin, a teacher, isn't entirely satisfied with his life either. It is a typical, hopeless affair between a married man with three kids and a younger woman.
       A number of social workers attempted to deal with the Axons, but none with much success. Mantel paints a devastating picture of the social services net and modern bureaucracy in what are perhaps the most polished and funniest parts of the book. Isabel finally shows up at the Axon doorstep, but she also has little success in helping them. When she misplaces their file the Axons are left completely unattended (which allows Muriel to be pregnant and even give birth without anyone knowing). The file is finally found again (though there is one coincidence too many in this chain of events), leading to pretty much everything coming to a head.
       The novel tells a number of parallel stories. Evelyn and Muriel live in their own isolated world, intruded upon by neighbor Florence and various social workers on occasion but otherwise left to their own devices. It is not a happy household.
       Colin and Sylvia also share (or don't share) a difficult life at home. They have one grand opportunity to get away from the kids for an evening out at a colleague's house, but every step of that evening is a nightmare as well.
       Colin and Isabel's hopeless and quite sordid affair also isn't going anywhere fast. Colin toys with the idea of leaving his wife, but avoids this radical change by getting his wife pregnant again, turning him back into a dutiful husband.
       The novel finds these different strands intersecting again and again, leading also to the vaguely dramatic ending. Mantel's strength is not in the overall story: it doesn't come together as neatly as it might, seeming a bit forced and not coming to a decisive conclusion (clearly leaving room for the sequel, Vacant Possession (see our review)). What Mantel does do very well is write. The descriptions and the conversation are often stunning: crisp, simple, clear, even exquisite. Some of the scenes are great successes as well -- the correspondence from the social workers dealing with the Axons, the dreadful party Colin and his wife attend -- though too often they read like set pieces rather than integral parts of the novel.
       There is deft social commentary in this novel (though the novel is set in 1970s England -- not an area of great interest right now). There is a good deal of dark humour, and there is lots of great writing. The plot disappoints on occasion, but Every Day is Mother's Day is still a very good read.

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Every Day is Mother's Day: Reviews: Hilary Mantel: Other books by Hilary Mantel under Review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction

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About the Author:

       English author Hilary Mantel was born in 1952. Author of several highly praised novels, she won the Hawthornden Prize in 1996.

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