“Lauren’s reflection had deep shadowed holes where it should have had eyes. A vision of horror. She turned away.”
Motherhood, like other things in life, contains paradoxical aspects. There is such joy experienced in creation, yet your body and your mind is in a way torched and set ablaze to bring forth new life. Your body no longer looks the way it used to, the healing and recuperation can take a toll and now, suddenly and a little intrusively, there is a newcomer to consider. What makes it worse for our protagonist Lauren is that she has two babies to deal with, when one baby alone is enough to send most running for the hills.
Lauren is so utterly human and vulnerable, which instantly makes her likeable. I don’t think I have ever read a book that lingers so much on the immediacy of childbirth and its aftermath. Usually we just skip ahead to when the mother leaves the hospital, so I like that Golding takes the time to bring us into the reality of Lauren’s exhaustingly grim world – a reality for many mothers.
“She was a pulsating piece of meat full of inconvenient nerve-endings and un-cauterised vessels.”
There are two levels to the horror in this novel. The first is the tangible, physical horror. Golding’s prose actually brought me to a stage of nausea as I read the descriptions of what was being done to Lauren’s body. She no longer possesses any sense of agency over her own body. The medical personnel do what they want when they want, ignoring her pleas and her pain. A common childbirth experience that quite a few of my friends share is this sense of being treated like a mere vessel. They even get reprimanded for not being strong or tough enough to bear the pain.
The next level is two-pronged. The fear has a supernatural form, but to a new mother who is still healing and medicated in some way, it feels like the mind is playing tricks. Golding’s novel has echoes of Charlotte Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, where we wonder if the woman whom we see is real or a horror conjured by Lauren’s mind. To everyone else, she is merely a hysterical woman, her experience is shrugged off as a side effect of labour. The only other person who seems to believe otherwise is Detective Joanna Harper, though one might feel that her investment in Lauren’s predicament could be because of her own personal demons.
Regardless, it is fascinating to see the collision of various perspectives: the supernatural against general public skepticism, intuition and instinct set against rational frameworks that guide police work. I have to say that the men in this novel annoyed me immensely. Lauren’s husband is, for a lack of a better word, such a bastard. The things that he says, and the way he treats his wife, made me wish I could meet him in real life so I could give him a good kick in the shin. His support for his wife isn’t where it should be, his only concern being his own comforts and his life continuing the way it was before the babies.
This is not to say that Lauren is infallible, but her issues are understandable, while I am unable to muster any ounce of liking for him. It doesn’t matter, since there is so much to love about the book. I love the mythos each chapter begins with, as well as Golding’s skilful layering of mystery and well developed characters. Little Darlings kept my heart pounding and my eyes racing as I eagerly devoured page after page, not willing to let go until the end of the book. Golding has weaved a satiating tale, pulsating with darkness and loss, before pushing us forward to what exists beyond – perhaps hope, or something close to that.
Review copy provided
Golding has weaved a satiating tale of motherhood, taking us into the world of the changeling mythos, but also rooting her story in the psychological turmoil experienced by new mothers.