Edward is six weeks old and I’ve had no sleep. I had thirty stitches in my perineum, the wounds still tug and itch. They had to do the stitches twice because the first lot became infected. The old-school midwife told me I wasn’t paying enough attention to personal hygiene. I must shower twice a day, or better still, take a salt bath. Do they really expect me to do that? Have they ever tried to shower when a baby is crying and you’re so tired you can barely stand and your partner is banging around downstairs because he’s late for work again?
I think most women have felt like this shortly after having a baby. Many of them simply managed to put one foot in front of the other until things calmed down but some will have found it harder and developed post-natal depression. PND is happening to Evie. Her relationship with her partner Mark is becoming more distant and testy. Her sister Joanna is so perfect it's infuriating. And, for all sorts of reasons, she doesn't want to ask either her father or her stepmother for help. But perhaps there is someone...
... that someone is Evie's long-estranged birth mother. And Evie, lost in the fog of depression though she is, manages to track her down. This reunion will do more than help Evie with the "baby blues" - it will provide the catalyst for an entire family to come to terms with its past and its present realities.
The Place Where Love Should Be is a delight to read. It's subtly written yet immediately engaging. It opens with a prologue describing the events that led to Evie's mother leaving and then plunges the reader straight into adult Evie's head, as she struggles to cope with the birth of her baby, Edward. You feel the same disassociation Evie feels as she narrates the litany of her perceived - and, to others, apparent - failures. It's obvious that Evie needs help, even as she pushes others away - her partner, her sister, her father, her stepmother, even her neighbour. You can really feel how oppressive Evie's world has become and how hard it seems to envisage any way to make things better. Simple, non-judgemental help from her estranged mother allows the sunlight in and it's only then we begin to see the real Evie. This is a compassionate and accurate exploration of post natal depression.
The novel also looks at blended families and the stresses and strains they come with, and at family secrets that were buried rather than faced and laid to rest. Ellis approaches these quite difficult themes with the same care and delicacy and the novel ends on an optimistic note but with no easy tying up of all the painful loose ends. I found it carefully and unobtrusively plotted and I really wanted to know how things turned out for all the characters I'd come to care about.
The Place Where Love Should Be is a lovely read, rooted in the experience of women. It comes recommended by Bookbag.
by The Book Bag review
I loved this book, it was quiet, sad, insightful and beautiful.
All the characters led such small lives but the author created a wonderfully, intricate web around them that transformed them into so much more. Evie, stuck in a moment so many years before and unable to allow herself to emotionally evolve. Joanna and her 'perfect' life and her neediness. William and his panic and inability to stand up for himself and his family. And Francine, her passion and love, stifled by a family not able to fully embrace her.
Her characters are skillfully flawed and real. Her treatment of post partum depression realistic and soul wrenching. I felt Evie's panic and confusion, her guilt in not being able to cope. Williams inertia was maddening and Joanna's need to control while hiding her fear of exclusion was written excellently. Ellis' prose was delightful to read, I never skipped over sentences and paragraphs to get to the story which is rare for me.
The only fault I can find, which is a very small fault, is that the story felt rushed at the end. There was no big revelation and no neat ending. But, I suppose that's real life isn't it?
by Caroline Hedges
I found the first few chapters rather slow. The content was painful and heartbreaking, but as the the rest of the family were brought in I became hooked. The characters felt real, if not rather irritating for their neglect and inaction. The description of post partem psychosis was deep and profound. Overall I enjoyed the book, the flow of the speech and the structure made it easy reading.
by Jan Brown
I must say I enjoyed reading this book. The story describes the interlinked lives of three women, the protagonist and new mother Evie, her stepmother, Francine and her birth mother, Helena. Evie has struggled with abandonment issues after her birth mother leaves her when she’s six, following the birth of Evie’s sister, Joanna. At her tender age she is unable to understand what exactly happened and the other adults in the scenario shut her out. Since then Evie has fought tooth and nail against building a bond with her new step mother, Francine out of loyalty to her mother. In the present day scenario, Evie finds herself helpless as a new mother. She feels overwhelmed and burdened by the constant care that the newborn demands from her. Sadly, she is also unable to ask for help from her current family. In desperation she conducts an internet search for her birth mother Helena and finds her. Midway through their reconnection however, circumstances change requiring her to lean on Francine as well. The story is told from the perspective of Evie and Francine mostly but with insightful injections from Evie’s father as well.
I thought the author did really well in sharing with us the feeling of confusion and drowning a new mother can experience. The idea that not all mothers experience motherhood in the same way and the fact that the not-so-happy stories are often hushed up and not discussed, can make a struggling mother feel alienated. Having experienced what her mother went through, is a revelation for Evie and helps rebuild their relationship. Her relationship with Francine too changes as she comes to realize the safe haven her second mother provided and continues to provide. I did feel however, that there was further scope for Francine’s character and the inclusion of another lover was not really needed. I also found myself feeling sorry for William, Evie’s father who lives in denial and avoids confrontations. As a new mother myself, I have been blessed with an excellent support system as have my friends so it was a very eye-opening read for me and I’m grateful to the author for taking me on a journey through the eyes of Evie, a mum who was hurting.
by Ashika V
Elizabeth Ellis grew up in Hertfordshire, has lived in various corners of England and spent several years in France. She has worked in education and now runs a community writing group and art gallery. She is married with three daughters.
The Place Where Love Should Be is her second novel.
Also by Elizabeth Ellis
Living with Strangers