Salley Vickers: Grandmothers
Published by: Penguin Viking
Available from online and all good bookshops from November 7th
What They Say:
Grandmothers is the story of three very different women and their relationship with the younger generation: fiercely independent Nan, who leads a secret life as an award-winning poet when she is not teaching her grandson Billy how to lie; glamorous Blanche, deprived of the company of her beloved granddaughter Kitty by her hostile daughter-in-law, who finds solace in rebelliously taking to drink and shop lifting; and shy, bookish Minna who in the safety of shepherd’s hut shares with her surrogate granddaughter Rose her passion for reading. The outlook of all three women subtly alters when through their encounters with each other they discover that the past is always with us and that we go on learning and changing until the very end.
What I Say:
‘There’s more than one kind of relative,’ Nan said. ‘There are kindred spirits, to my mind closer than blood ties often.’
I read Salley Vickers’ previous novel The Librarian last year, and loved the way in which you were drawn in to a world that was so far from my own, but engaged me totally and was observed with such tenderness and clarity.
When I was asked to take part in the BlogTour for Grandmothers, I was really looking forward to savouring Salley’s elegant prose and real characters once again.
Grandmothers is the story of three women; Nan, Minna and Blanche, and we are observers of their lives as women who have all loved, lived and lost and are now Grandmothers.
Nan looks after her grandson Billy, and is constantly both frustrated by how chaotic her son Alec and daughter in law Virginia are in their approach to parenting, but she also relishes the time that she has with Billy. She may seemingly be abrasive, with little or no tolerance for those who do not fit in with her view of the world, but she is also an intensely intelligent woman who is a successful poet. Her desire to be able to write in peace and channel her creativity is thwarted by the time she has to look after Billy, but her love and desire to give her grandson stability and guidance means she knows that she is doing the right thing.
We learn that Nan has never got over her first true love Hamish, and she has channelled her thoughts and desires into the poetry that consumes her dreams and provides her with a creative outlet. Nan is biding her time until she can be with Hamish again, but in the meantime, her devotion to and relationship with Billy provides her with the daily routine and connection to the world around her.
Blanche is also a devoted Grandmother to her two grandchildren, but she has a special connection with teenage Kitty. However an ill judged remark by her grandson has given her acerbic daughter in law the moral upper hand and has decided to restrict the contact Blanche has with them. As a result, even though she is comfortably off, Blanche has started to shoplift and drink more than she should. This for me raised many interesting questions about Blanche, and indeed the large number of women today who adore their Grandchildren but are prevented from spending time with them by their children, and how they deal with a situation that is seemingly irreperable.
Blanche’s sadness and bewilderment at what she is doing is increasingly evident through the chapters. It is as if she is numb within her own life, and having settled for a marriage with a man she loved, but was not in love with, and being denied time with her family, she is desperate to feel something, anything to get her through her days.
Minna is not related to Rose, having met her when she worked at her school as a teaching assistant, but is the closest thing to a granddaughter she has. Minna is slightly removed from society in that she lives alone in a Shepherd’s Hut, and leads a simple and plain life on her own. However, her relationship with Rose brings her joy, and their shared passion for Reading not only helps connect them, but also gives Rose the comfort she needs away from the family home, as her parents’ marriage is starting to crumble.
These three seemingly separate women are connected not only by the bond they have with the children, but also by the lives they have lived and the society they are part of.
Older women are often deemed invisible by the world around them, and in this novel, Salley Vickers unapologetically places them right in front of us, and makes us realise that their age does not make them less valuable, rather that these women should be respected and celebrated for the life they have led and the wisdom they have gained.
There were so many things about Grandmothers that resonated with me. As the narrative moves effortlessly backwards and forwards through Nan, Minna and Blanche’s lives, I absolutely understood their frustrations at feeling like they didn’t quite fit in any more through no fault of their own. Their worth was measured in how available they were to take on the care of their grandchildren without a thought for whether or not it stopped them from living their own lives.
It was also a clever plot device to have all the women gradually meet each other in moments where they fleetingly intersect with each other’s lives before starting to forge their friendships. I kept willing them all to get together, but it is testament to Salley’s skill as a writer that she kept them apart until just the right moment.
For me, the fact that the women were not paragons of virtue, that they had faults and were trying to get through their lives as best as they could endeared them more to me. The women are relatable because they act, feel and respond like we do, and that makes us feel closer to them and we want to see them happy too.
Grandmothers is one of those novels that when you start it, you don’t want it to end. Salley Vickers has written a book that deserves to be read slowly and savoured, filled with evocative descriptions and characters you really care about. You might not always understand the choices they make, but you only want them all to finally find what makes them truly happy.
This is not simply a trite story about three women who are Grandmothers, but instead is a passionate and vital read about women who have forged their own paths and eventually learn to have confidence in themselves and the creative, emotional and personal paths they have taken.
I loved it.
Thank you so much to Hannah at Viking Books UK for my gifted copy, and please do have a look to see what these other brilliant bloggers are saying about Grandmothers too.