My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I was provided with a copy of this book by the author but, as always, this review is freely and independently written. Indeed, I actually expressed an interest in the book after reading an interview with the author on her Facebook page.
‘My Adopted Life’ is the first instalment of the story of the author’s own mother who gave up Ms Beattie as a baby. It is very easy, in our more liberal modern day, to look at someone who hands over their child to another with withering pity and more than a little disgust. We tend not to think twice of fathers who walk away from their children without another thought, but women are demonised. It is a common problem in the courts and well known among criminologists that where you can take men and women, crime like-for-like committed against children, the women will be punished more severely than the men. Such is the hypocrisy that our society continues to sow into our national identities.
A H M Beattie’s book is something of an antidote to this judgemental way of looking at the ‘bad mother’. Written in third person narrative and entirely focusing on the author’s mother, Lizzie Brady, the writing has a feel of actually being written in first person. This feels like Lizzie’s story. There’s no ‘my mum did this and then my mum did that’ to this story. You are thrown fully and completely into Lizzie’s story – transported back to 1959 and taken through, month by month to 1961 – living in staunchly Northern England Catholic society.
Initially, it is easy to shake your head and think ‘silly girl’ as Lizzie goes from unwise decision to more unwise – starting at marrying a “bad ‘un” through to getting pregnant again through a one-night stand. But before long you can’t help but soften and see Lizzie’s plight spiral out of control. There comes a point where you think ‘nothing worse could happen now, surely?’ and then it does. The result is that you’re drawn into an almost Kafkaesque world where the inevitable is unshakeable – and it happens in a painful and drawn out manner.
‘My Adopted Life’ is a labour of love from the author and, as such, does not necessarily hold up to all the niceties of a traditionally published book. There are some typos and occasional spelling errors; some inconsistencies of style surface too. An editor’s eye would certain help to smooth the edges. Nevertheless, Ms Beattie manages a style which has a charm all of its own, and the book is written well enough – I could have done no better. I quickly dismissed my critical eye and just enjoyed the tale – if ‘enjoyed’ is the right word to use with Lizzie’s plight.
Certainly, I came away moved by the story, and my acid test for a good story of ‘do I care what happens next to the characters?’ was met. I would very much like to read the next book in the series, not least because I want to know how A H M Beattie came to meet her mother – presumably many years or decades later – to be able to find out the story behind her adoption. However she came to know the tale, the author has faithfully and lovingly retold it convincingly. The book is a joy to read and I felt honoured to have experienced something of Lizzie’s journey.
The book is an easy read and short enough to finish in a few hours. It would make a thoughtful gift for friends who enjoy true stories of ordinary humans. Indeed, ‘My Adopted Life’ exposes the lie of the idea of ‘ordinary human’. Lizzie’s tale is harrowing and traumatic – unique to her yet indicative of the kind of problems by so many women over so many decades. There’s nothing ‘ordinary’ here – just deeply sad. For the discerning reader then, this book is a welcome read.
Social Entrepreneur, educationalist, bestselling author and journalist, D K Powell is the author of the bestselling collection of literary short stories “The Old Man on the Beach“. His first book, ‘Sonali’ is a photo-memoir journal of life in Bangladesh and has been highly praised by the Bangladeshi diaspora worldwide. Students learning the Bengali language have also valued the English/Bengali translations on every page. Listen to his life story in interview with the BBC here.
D K Powell is available to speak at events (see his TEDx talk here) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, he is available for one-to-one mentoring and runs a course on the psychology of writing.