In 1980, Josephine flees her home in Ireland to start a new life in London, vowing never to return. Until seventeen years later when she is summoned to see her dying mother In 1997 ten year old Clare is looking forward to the summer holidays when she is going to meet her grandparents in Ireland for the first time. She hopes this trip will put an end to her mum’s dark moods – and drinking. Family secrets are unburied, and things soon are out in the open. But is this for the best?
Alice Fitzgerald’s Her Mother’s Daughter is told through the eyes of these two characters, the narration shifting cleverly in perfect tones as the overarching story is told. Touching on family dynamics, trauma, the mother-daughter relationship and change, it’s a thematically intense novel that has many light moments.
I caught up with Alice to find out more.
This is your first novel; how long has the story been in your head for?
The story has been in my head for as long as I can remember, in some shape or form. I am London-born to Irish parents, and I’ve always been intrigued by ideas of home and belonging, which come through in the novel. In the end, the whole story is built around one summer holiday to Ireland because I remember those summers so well. None of mine ended like Clare and Josephine’s though!
Is any of the story from your own background?
Yes. I’m London-born to Irish parents, and my parents’ marriage also came to an end, as Josephine and Michaels’ does. My mum isn’t Josephine though, she is a character inspired by many women who I know and don’t know, who have been victims of abuse and are tormented by their past and their struggle with mental health. She is so many women, I think, struggling with motherhood and what that is, the pressures of society on women and what we should be, what we should look like…
You speak a bit about dieting in the book and about the importance of being a ‘good’ girl – do you think that the pressure to conform to certain is one of the social forms of oppression that exists? It almost echoes the mother’s personal abuse.
Absolutely. There are messages about being a ‘good’ girl, a ‘beautiful’ girl, a ‘perfect’ girl, a ‘slim/skinny’ girl, everywhere. They all merge and fuse and get mixed up and I don’t even know the difference between them. I wanted to capture what it is to be female, and a victim, and how we often are victims, to more or less extent, at some point in our lives.
What interests you about the mother-daughter relationship?
Everything! That we soak up so much from our mothers, how they shape us, how their traumas, or hang-ups, or attitudes, are passed on to us, and in turn how we pass them on to our own daughters. A mother is a child’s first home, and she remains that in some way for the rest of a child’s life.