In this meditative novel, a female writer explores her internal debate over whether to have children, recording her thoughts, conversations with loved ones and fortune tellers, and consultations with the I Ching.
...[an] earthy and philosophical and essential new novel ... [Motherhood] floats somewhere between fiction and nonfiction. It reads like an inspired monologue, delivered over a kitchen table, or the one Spalding Gray sat behind in Swimming to Cambodia. Not a lot happens, yet everything does ... This book is endlessly quotable, and a perfect review would be nothing but quotations. She makes a banquet of her objections to parenthood. If you are an underliner, as I am, your pen may go dry.
Heti is at her best — her sharpest and funniest — when she writes about why having a child doesn’t appeal to her, cutting against saccharine commonplaces about the importance of child-rearing ... At the end of the novel, in a witty reversal of the expected cliché, she describes having managed to get to the end of her childbearing years without a baby as 'a miracle' ... Are miracle and faith being slyly travestied, or is this just another example of the going secular self-help usage? It’s hard to tell ... Though our narrator moves in the artistic and academic circles of Toronto, she writes as though she seems unaware of any cultural debates, current or historical, about the ethics of procreation and child-rearing. Given that she spends a lot of time reading, on the one hand, and musing about reproduction, on the other, her lack of engagement with other minds on this much-discussed subject makes her deliberations feel airless and mulishly self-involved ... As one reads on in Motherhood, it becomes increasingly conspicuous that in the world of this novel, there is only one example of a writer — the narrator herself.
There is something embarrassing and oddly compelling about a celebrated writer sincerely going back and forth over whether to have a child for 304 pages of first-person stream of consciousness. In chapters titled after her menstrual cycle, the narrator, whose name is Sheila, talks with mothers, and women who are pregnant, and struggles to determine if they are reliable narrators of their experience ... Sheila is funny, and idiosyncratic enough to rub contra to 2018, a time when the litmus test for a woman’s success is the extent to which her daily planner is a subject of marvel. How does she have time? ... The problem with the novel is also why it’s secretly a joy to read: It wasn’t written for us. I was amused to flip back and read the first line of Motherhood. 'Is this book a good idea?' Well, no ... But then what was How Should a Person Be? but a woman’s 288-page quest to justify her decision to be an artist before she made any art worth admiring? James Wood rightly called it 'a kind of 'ugly novel'.' If her last novel was like a woman whose cover-up always looks a little orange because she reapplies it in ill-lit bars, Motherhood is like a woman looking in the halogen-lit mirror at a doctor’s office ... All the art monster can do in the face of an indifferent world is value her art; whether or not it’s a bad idea is beside the point.