Monday, August 18, 2008

Without a Backward Glance by Kate Veitch

If I asked you if there was anything in the world you could walk away from without a backward glance, I'm sure most of you wouldn't name your husband/wife and your children. But in Kate Veitch's Without A Backward Glance, Rosemarie McDonald walks away from her husband, Alex, and their four children on Christmas Eve 1967, fleeing their home in Australia to go back to England. Flash forward almost 40 years, and the children are grown and profoundly affected by their mother's abandonment.

Deborah is the oldest and assumed the role of mother when Rose split, and she finds herself unable to let down her guard with her husband or back away from her career to pay attention to her family. Robert is struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder--seemingly the only thing wrong with his life; he has a loving wife, two darling daughters, and a job as a school principal that he enjoys--while the baby of the family, Meredith, copes with single parenthood by drinking. James, a successful artist, is content in his passionless marriage, glad that he is no longer wanted only for his good looks. James is the first sibling to come in contact with Rose. Believing that his siblings will be bitter and still holding a grudge and that they have enough to handle already with their father's worsening dementia, James keeps their mother to himself for awhile.

The McDonalds aren't immediately a likable bunch. Veitch does a remarkable job showing the hurt Rose caused by walking away from her family and showing how this hurt affected the lives of her children--their personalities and their relationships--for decades. She also does a brilliant job showing Rose's discontent with being a housewife, her frustration with the chaos created by four children, and the desire of a young wife to pursue a career as a fashion designer. Veitch makes it possible for the reader to disagree with Rose's choice, to acknowledge her selfishness, yet understand how she felt trapped and not ready to give up her dreams. The characters in Without A Backward Glance, particularly the women, are complex, not knowing black and white, but living in the gray, which is a necessity when weaving together so many themes: abandonment, dementia, obsessive compulsive disorder, alcoholism, adultery, feminism, artistic pursuits, motherhood, marriage, and the list goes on. Veitch tackles a lot in her first novel, and I appreciate that she doesn't give us the usual, unoriginal happy ending.

To me, Without A Backward Glance, is mostly about change. How a single action can change your life and the lives of others forever, how we can change our broken selves into a whole person if we vow to move beyond the pain. Veitch does a superb job showing the evolution of all the major characters, as well as Deborah's daughter, Olivia, and James' wife, Silver. It was hard for me to truly like the characters, but it was easy for me to root for them and want the best for them all in the end.

The numerous themes covered in Without A Backward Glance make it a great read for book clubs, especially those with mothers who'd have a lot to say about Rose jumping into a car on Christmas Eve and riding out of her children's lives. (Certainly, we all want to get away now and again, but who actually would or could do it permanently??)


Kate emailed me a couple of weeks ago, having noticed Without A Backward Glance listed in my sidebar under "What I'm Reading Now." She was kind enough to let me interview her, so please come back tomorrow to find out what inspired her to write about a mother who leaves her children, whether she identifies with any of the characters, and what she's writing now.

Kate also wanted me to let you all know that there is a link to a book group discussion guide on her website and that she's available to speak with book clubs via phone or email.

ETA: Kate just informed me about a podcast from Authors on Tour Live of her reading from Without A Backward Glance at the Tattered Cover bookstore in Denver. Check it out here!

Disclosure:  I borrowed Without a Backward Glance from the library.


Lady Blogger said...

It sounds like a very complex book. Does the author delve into why the mother leaves?

Anna said...

Yes, she does. I sort of hinted at it in my review, but I didn't want to give anything away.

Serena said...

This sounds like another fantastic read. I will have to check this one out and I can't wait to see what the author has to say.

Serena said...

p.s. do we count as a book club? Our club of 2?

Anna said...

If you want to call us a book club, cool!