The Other Ida, by Amy Mason, tells the story of a dysfunctional family and the legacy of abuse over three generations. The protagonist, Ida, is a thirty year old alcoholic who left home at fifteen but has never moved on from the troubled, squalid lifestyle in which she was raised. She has been estranged from her mother and sister for many years but is now returning to the family home for her mother’s funeral. She feels no sadness at the death of her parent and questions her own worth for feeling this way.
The book moves between time frames giving the reader glimpses of Ida’s childhood and adolescence as well as the period in which the novel is set. Her mother, also an alcoholic, did not cope well with responsibility. She lived a life filled with bitterness and resentment, her only apparent achievement a play written before her children were born. The shadow of this play has affected them all.
The young Ida did her best to care for her little sister, worrying about her well-being and insecurities. This responsibility created its own resentments, the repercussions of which affected Ida deeply. Their father left when they were very young and, although he lived nearby, did little to help them out of the mire their mother created with her dependencies and depression. Ida swung between hate and awe of her enigmatic mother, both enjoying at times and hating the way she made them live.
In getting together to arrange the funeral she and her sister go through their mother’s possessions and unearth secrets which go some way to explaining why all of their lives turned out as they did. With the help of a family friend they find out who their mother was.
The book is a page turner, nicely written with good pace and flow. It is rarely predictable and has a satisfying denouement. Having said that though I have read a number of books with the same premise, of families with a broken history getting together for a funeral and uncovering secrets. This book was an original take on the theme with a very strong build up, but the second half of the book did not deliver the punch that the first half suggested could be possible. Had the beginning not been so very good I may not have felt that slight disappointment, my only criticism of an otherwise solid tale.
The story is brutal, challenging and almost cruelly realistic in its portrayal of a complex mother-daughter relationship. It is also funny and warm in places with an undercurrent of hope despite the damaged people it portrays. An impressive debut by the author, one that is well worth reading.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Cargo.