The Weaning, by Hannah Vincent, tells the story of a childminder burdened with a terrible history. Bobbi has all the necessary training and certificates. She cherishes the children in her care. She is trying to fill a void in her life with other people’s babies.
The tale opens with an interview. Nikki works in PR, her husband, Rob, is a writer. They want their six month old son, Marcel, to be looked after for a few days each week.
Bobbi quickly settles into their routine. When alone in their home she shows little respect for their privacy or property but grows fond of Marcel. She takes him to the same park where she took her own children when they were young. She daydreams about the boy’s future. A few days a week are not enough to satisfy Bobbi’s need. She will drop everything when Nikki or Rob call on her for help.
At a signing class with Marcel, Bobbi spots a poster asking for child-minding volunteers. A youth worker is running a support group for young people, some of whom have babies. Bobbi applies and, at the first meeting, is introduced to Kim and Connor. They are being watched by social services who are concerned for the well-being of their little daughter, Jade. To give the young couple some time alone together, Bobbi agrees to babysit.
Back at her flat Bobbi chats to her own children, Lily and Jonny. They are not always receptive. She is also growing closer to a new neighbour, Fox, but worries that her children would disapprove of her being in a relationship. They are difficult enough to communicate with. She will not allow Fox to visit.
Bobbi’s mother is in a care home, her mind drifting away. What is a mother if she cannot be there for her children?
Bobbi seeks an opportunity to bring Marcel and Jade together. Her behaviour is making Nikki wary.
A sense of foreboding permeates the writing. The key elements of Bobbi’s life, which provide its purpose and reason, feel increasingly out of kilter. She makes adjustments others have recommended but is not happy with the changes these bring.
Fox wishes to help Bobbi but believes she must face up to hard truths she has not shared with him. He has been listening to local gossip. In stripping away the scaffolding she has built around her life, her house of cards collapses – the result is devastating.
This book is dark in the best possible way. Even if, as I did, the central tenet is guessed before it is revealed, tension is retained. The denouement packed an unexpected punch. I was momentarily felled.
The writing flows, succinct and penetrating within a structure that perfectly balances compulsive engagement with storytelling. A stunning work that I read in one time forgotten sitting. Highly recommended.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.