Kali's Reviews > The Stepmother's Diary

The Stepmother's Diary by Fay Weldon
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's review
Sep 29, 2011

liked it
bookshelves: first-read-in-2011
Read from September 27 to 29, 2011

Despite the glossy pink cover, I would not classify this book as "chick-lit", though I gather that some people have, apparently solely on the basis that it was written by a woman about women. Personally, I classify chicklit as being the more light-hearted chocolate-and-boyfriends kind of story. This reminded me more of Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, although more modern, more sexually entangled, and less of a classic.

The first narrator, Emily, is a Freudian psychotherapist, and the mother of the titular stepmother. As she reads her daughter's diaries, she filters the events through her own understandings, and compares them with her own memories. I have placed this book on my 'unreliable narrator' shelf because it is sometimes unclear as to whose memories are more accurate, who has the more true recollection of events.

The stepmother's diaries are the story within the story, written by Emily's daughter, Sappho. For much of the book, Sappho attempts to write her experiences as a play or a novel, rather than as a memoir, adding another layer of uncertainty to the story. Since she did not write these events with the intention of unbiased reporting, should we take them as such? It's an interesting device, and I feel that it works well.

As for the story itself; it is one of bereavement, manipulation, sexuality, and Electra complexes carried through into adulthood, though is this true, or merely suspected on the part of one or both of the narrators?

During the last third of the novel, I felt an increasing sense of dread. There were characters who, to my mind, needed to get their comeuppance. There needed to be some kind of revenge, to put things right in this world, and, as the pages ticked down to nothing, I began to wonder if this would ever happen.

Fortunately, it does, finally, and within a few sentences, it seemed to me, that the downtrodden characters would rise again, that they would fight their way back, giving me the kind of resolution I required from this book.

As a final note; I tagged this book with 'all about the architecture' due to the use of the ancestral house, Apple Lee, as a plot-driving MacGuffin. It's certainly not as central to the plot as Heck-Andrews is in Lionel Shriver's A Perfectly Good Family.

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09/27/2011 page 88
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