A Perfect Mother, by Katri Skala, explores the scars inflicted by family across generations. It opens in Trieste where a middle aged journalist, Jacob Bedford, has arrived to research an article he has been commissioned to write, about the city for a magazine. While there he plans to dig deeper into his family history. Jacob’s great-grandfather sent his last known communication from Trieste in 1938. Unlike other members of the Jewish family, his name is not on lists of holocaust victims.
Jacob is separated from his wife and doing his best to retain regular contact with his beloved teenage sons. He is familiar with the attention he garners from women and has indulged in many infidelities over the years. He recognises that his allure is fading as he ages. Desiring company he is pleased when Jane Worth, in Trieste with her book group to enjoy the Lucia Joyce connection, offers to buy him a drink. Jacob hopes for sex. What he receives is a story she offloads about an old friend, Charlotte, who is also in the city.
Charlotte has a difficult history involving her child, a mental breakdown and a wealthy, neglectful husband. She married to escape her mother who subsequently killed herself. Jane is a psychotherapist and met Charlotte professionally before becoming personally involved in her difficulties.
Jacob, Charlotte and Jane are drawn to each other, their lives intersecting in ways they did not predict. Back in England they keep in touch, coming together at Jane’s house in Gloucester where Charlotte offloads more painful memories. Jacob is frustrated by the role they have assigned him but is now caught in their web.
The writing ebbs and flows as family histories and their lasting impacts are revealed. Charlotte may be damaged but Jacob craves her attention. Jane’s concern for her friend may not be as selfless as it seems.
This is a complex tale of love and loyalties, of mental illness, the impact of loss and the fragility of trust. The protagonists each seek an identity, to perform their desired roles as good people. Hovering within their friendship is the question of how much of another’s thoughts, desires and motivations can ever be truly known or understood.
The unusual tense of the writing adds to the stark intensity of the portrayal. This is a literary thriller that does not baulk at challenging threads. Jacob’s multi layered thoughts on the unfolding situation are presented with relatable honesty. As a parent there is much to ponder, much of which is somewhat perturbing.
A dark tale with depth that draws the reader in. An impressive debut.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Hikari Press.