We asked you: What are your favourite books featuring unconventional mothers?

16 March 2015

By Pan Macmillan

What does it mean to be a mother? A best friend, a cook, a life coach, a taxi service, a shoulder to cry on? Mothers are often painted in fiction as the epitome of perfection - their patience knows no bounds, their love is unconditional, and they would gladly make any sacrifice necessary for the good of their children.

But this Mother's Day we wanted to celebrate some of literature's more unconventional matriarchs! We think you'll agree that whilst some of these might not be the most traditional mothers ever written, they certainly make for interesting reading!
 

1. Where'd you go Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Suggested by @EdgyBooks

In Maria Sample’s heart-warming novel, Bee Branch attempts to find her mother, Bernadette Fox, who has gone missing in the middle of her intervention. Bernadette seems weird to the other mums but Bee loves her and puts all her efforts into piecing information together to find her. This is a great read about unconditional love and longing for a missing mother.
 
2. Frog Music by Emma Donoghue

Blanche is certainly not the most traditional fictional mother that ever lived. For starters, she's a burlesque-dancing former star of the Parisian circus, who abandons her infant child in an orphanage during a Smallpox epidemic. But as Blanche tries to solve the murder of her friend, she also learns the value of self-respect and to take responsibility for the life she has created.

 
3. Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum

There's nothing conventional about the dysfunctional family unit in Hausfrau by Jill Alexander Essbaum. Anna Benz is an American ex-pat who has relocated to Zurich with her husband, and is bringing up three children in a stifling and alien Swiss society. Anna is increasingly detached from her family and surroundings - in 9 years she's never learnt the language or befriended the other mothers - so decides to engage in short-lived but intense extramarital affairs. A wonderfully refreshing account of a housewife going off the rails. 

 
4. White Oleander by Janet Fitch
Suggested by @bookish_norah

Janet Finch’s novel is a poignant tale of a difficult and intense mother daughter relationship, which is nevertheless based on love. The story is told by Astrid, whose mother Ingrid is a strong-willed poet that commits murder and is imprisoned. Definitely one of the most unconventional mothers on the list and a compelling read.
 
5. What Will Survive by Mark Gartside

As a single dad, Graham Melton definitely makes the grade as an unconventional mother. In a heart-warming and humorous tale of love, laughter and tears, Mark Gartside weaves a poignant story of one man's struggle to bring up his son whilst learning to love and smile all over again.
 
6. Having it All by Maeve Haran

Mother Liz Ward in Having It All is tired of pretending there is no price to pay for her success. Liz has a glittering career, a successful marriage and a happy family. But she misses all the small things which make up family life; meal times, bedtime stories, time alone with her husband. When Liz makes a life-changing choice, her friends are scandalized - she's shattering the myth they all must live by. Having It All is for every woman who works and misses her children, and for every mother who stays at home and wonders if she's missing out.
 
7. Ladder of Years by Anne Tyler
Suggested by @Aceso84

Delia Grinstead impulsively abandons her family during a beach holiday in an attempt to gain a sense of identity, away from her family ties. This stunning novel follows her journey as she tries to figure out what's important to her.

You may also like

Hausfrau
Frog Music
Having It All