Abby and Ralph Lamb think they have escaped their difficult childhoods when they find each other and prepare to raise a family of their own. But when they move in with Ralph’s unstable mother Laura, to care for her, they find themselves repaid with ingratitude and cruelty.
When Laura ends her life, Abby looks forward to a brighter future – until her undead mother-in-law returns to the basement. Now, the Lambs find themselves haunted in different ways.
While Ralph spirals into a depression Abby finds herself unable to pull him from, she struggles to keep everything she holds dear from being torn from her grasp – including her future as a mother.
Motherthing, Ainslie Hogarth’s third novel, explores the complexities of intergenerational trauma and the struggle to find meaning in a cold world.
You have an MFA in creative writing from the University of Auckland. How did the MFA shape your work as a writer?
For me, the most valuable thing about an MFA is that it gives you the chance to treat your writing like a full-time job and to take yourself seriously as a writer, without shame. A sad truth about this world is that it’s a bit embarrassing to be hopeful. Pouring yourself into your art, fixating on the glimmer of hope that it might one day earn you a living, feels like just about the most embarrassing thing you can do sometimes. But something like an MFA shifts your perspective on that, and sometimes that’s exactly what it takes to start digging in and finishing projects.
The novel blends prose with script. Why did the story demand this melding of forms?
We write and rewrite our histories to serve ourselves in the present. We rewrite our relationships too. The script format helped demonstrate my main character’s growing detachment from reality, but I hope it also highlights how frequently we all put our experiences through a sort of narrativisation process. None of us is as connected to reality as we’d like to think we are.
Abby and Ralph have no real community apart from each other and fill that void by consuming – books, food, television, objects. Is capitalism isolating us and then selling a false sense of companionship back to us?
Yeah, capitalism alienates us from our humanity, then tries to repackage it and sell it back to us.
In a world where affection and consumption are indistinguishable, is selfless love possible?
Honestly, I’m not sure that selfless love is all that healthy anyway!
Characters are defined as children, parents and sexual partners – categories that are not always stable. Does the self exist outside of our relationship to others?
I imagine it does exist, in some way – at the very least it’s comforting to imagine consciousness having shape. But I suspect our compulsion to define the self (a compulsion possibly implanted to serve the aforementioned capitalist design!) would not exist.
Abby describes having no sense of self at all before meeting Ralph. What were the challenges of writing in the first person with a protagonist who does not know who she is?
I’m not sure if this aspect of her character brought any specific challenges, only because not having defined boundaries or a strong sense of self is a consistent enough character trait to build from. Just because Abby doesn’t know herself, doesn’t mean that I don’t.
Laura appears in the home as static. Is there a connection between her and the television programmes Abby and Ralph turn to in the absence of maternal affection?
Ooooooh, I love that! I wish I could tell you that was a connection I’d drawn consciously but it definitely was not. Great observation, thank you!
Etymologically, to haunt means to frequent. Does Abby haunt her mother, over whom she obsesses, just as Laura haunts her son and daughter-in-law?
It’s interesting to think about the haunter (Abby, in the context of this question) as more tormented by the haunting than the haunted, in this case her mother, who, sadly, would most likely still not see Abby, even if she were haunting her.
Abby defines herself as a mother before she has a child. Is motherhood as much a state of mind as a biological or legal relationship?
I think it probably is. I’m at home with two kids all day and still don’t always feel like a mom.
Abby worries Laura might infect her. Are we all infected by our families’ failings?
I don’t think we’re infected by our families’ failings, but I do think that without proper boundaries, it’s very easy to allow someone’s mental state to infect your own. That was sort of the seed idea of this story – what does it look like, close up, when two people go insane together.
Motherthing is published by Vintage