Reviewed by Emma Crowley
Caroline has hit rock bottom. After years of trying, it's clear she can't have children, and the pain has driven her and her husband apart. She isn't pregnant, her husband is gone and her beloved dog is dead.
The other women at her infertility support group have their own problems, too. Natalie's girlfriend is much less excited about having children than her. Janet's husband might be having an affair. And then there's Ronnie, intriguing, mysterious Ronnie, who won't tell anyone her story.
Catherine is sixteen and pregnant. Her boyfriend wants nothing to do with her, and her parents are ashamed. When she's sent away to a convent for pregnant girls, she is desperate not to be separated from her child. But she knows she might risk losing the baby forever.
Many thanks to Bonnier Books UK via NetGalley for my copy of Waiting for the Miracle to review and to Sharon for having my review on the blog.
Anna McPartlin is an author who I have long thought deserves much wider recognition than she receives. She has written some incredible books, The Last Days of Rabbit Hayes and Below the Big Blue Sky, just two which have long remained in my mind. Her new book Waiting for the Miracle again deals with heart-wrenching topics that leave you both angry and deeply sad. She is a brilliant storyteller and has a unique way of making you both laugh and cry on the one page. This time around she has chosen to write about infertility and a group of women and how they are each dealing with their longing and need to become a mother. Each journey is so difficult to navigate and it’s amazing the different backgrounds and situations each woman comes to the group with. The story is told through a dual timeline and it works seamlessly switching back and forth between the present day with the group and back to the past as we follow one young girl’s story through the most harrowing, distressing and unbelievable of times.
When we first meet Caroline, she is in a very lonely and sad place. She has hit rock bottom. The cracks in her marriage are widening by the day given the intense pressure that has been placed upon it trying for years to have a baby. Her husband, Dave, has reached that end point where enough is enough and he is walking out the door but Caroline is dogged in her determination to keep going, to try more IVF, to try any method out there that will see her dream fulfilled. She had never wanted children but once that urge and desire materialised it never left and it was all that fuelled her. So when it didn’t happen naturally, her world fell apart. She has become isolated from her friends and family and reached that point where any news of someone being pregnant just drives her insane and makes her bitter and unable to communicate any form of happiness for that person.
Caroline attends the infertility group in the hopes of sharing her story, of finding solace and comfort with those who are going through the same experiences. She feels needed and wanted there. That she can unburden her load and they will not judge her for feeling the way she does when time and time again bad news just widens the chasm with Dave. But one line sums up how I felt Caroline should try and deal with her situation because I felt she was on a road that wouldn’t give her the outcome she needed. ’Sometimes we don’t get what we want or what we need. Sometimes we have to find a way to find peace regardless’. I felt from the beginning Caroline needed to find an alternative peace which I know is incredibly hard to do but until she could reach this point she was torturing herself and in my mind causing untold harm to the life she could have lead and to those around her.
I loved how each of the women came from all walks of live and were dealing with significant obstacles/problems in their path to motherhood. You don’t ever really stop and think how difficult it is. As with Caroline, when you reach that point in life where you are ready to become a mother you just expect it to happen. Natalie has no fertility issues. Her issue is that her partner is a woman. She is almost in a battle with her partner Linda. It’s a silent one as I felt there was so much unsaid from Linda and the manner in which they set about their journey, I thought it was too close to home and perhaps more of an outsider was needed. Natalie is wracked with indecision and the closeness she once had with Linda is dissipating. Communication is needed but she fears once things are said they cannot be taken back and really a child is what she craves so she daren’t say anything which would upset the apple cart.
Janet, I felt was the most vulnerable of the group and almost child like. She had been through a horrific experience of loss through something I had never heard about before. Jim, her husband, is her rock and strong support system but she questions, has he had enough of dealing with her and how she reacted to her loss. Can she bear to try again for a child? Will history repeat itself? I thought the other women in the group were like mother hens to Janet in the most positive and natural of ways and out of all the women she was the one I wanted something positive to happen too. As for Ronnie, she is the real enigma of the group. For some strange reason, I thought she came across as very aloof and somewhat manly. That the group wasn’t the place for her. She kept her cards close to her chest and at times riled people up the wrong way. There were so many questions surrounding her and it’s only as I neared the end I realised the crucial part she had to play and my opinions of her changed and I thought she was the most perfect inclusion to the story.
Without doubt the strongest part of the story where the chapters set back in the past where we follow Catherine from her childhood, reared on a pig farm in rural Ireland, through the worst trauma to befall a young woman in Ireland at the time and as she grows into an adult dealing with the repercussions of an event that never truly leaves her. She was an outstanding character and I found myself desperate to get back to her story when reading of the group in the present. We see the innocence of a young girl believing she has found true love only to be shunted to one side and more or less sold off like a piece of meat. Tossed to one side, conveniently forgotten about because power and money could get you a lot in those days. Her mother was the weakest and most spineless of characters and I don’t care what anyone would think no way did Catherine deserve what befell her.
To be abandoned, betrayed and abused like that should never have happened to her. Nor to the thousands of young women who suffered at the hands of the Catholic church and the nuns running the Magdalene laundries. It’s a shameful part of Irish history and the devastation and repercussions are still being felt today with horrendous stories emerging. I could feel the anger that Anna McPartlin felt when writing these parts of the book and rightly so. I think she is expressing how so many Irish women feel today when the truth emerged as to what happened at that time. So many people have so much to answer for but they never will and it both saddens and angers me. Catherine was a fighter, a survivor whose love for what was taken from her never ever diminished. She wanted answers, clarity and to find what was gone and she would not rest until this was achieved. She picked herself up from the very bottom, a place where degradation and disdain was rife and she would seek what was rightfully hers. I admired her so much and wanted nothing but the evil to turn to good for her.
I’ll be honest and say and reluctantly so that this book wasn’t my favourite by this author, not that there was anything wrong with it. It’s written in the author’s usual brilliant writing style and the themes are hard hitting and thought provoking with well developed characters and once again this book would be ideal as a book club selection. So much research and thought had gone into every storyline and you just knew she was writing from some of her own personal experiences and had the sensitivity and tact with how to deal with everything being explored. But the fact is, it’s simply down to me as to why it’s not my favourite although I would highly recommend it. I really appreciated what a brilliant book it was and how strong of the author to tackle the subject matter but honestly not having any children myself and no strong desire to do so perhaps the characters as a collective apart from Catherine didn’t resonate with me as much as they should have. I could see their hurt, loss, despair, anger and the injustice they felt at the knockbacks, negativity and torture they were going through and if I had felt the same way maybe I would have been really deeply invested in them but giving my own personal circumstances and viewpoints the set of women and their both their individual and collective journeys as a group although making for an excellent read I just couldn’t fully relate to them all and at times I found parts of the story told in the present day to drag.
Waiting for the Miracle is a fantastic read and I thought the title was so apt given the overall themes and how each women is waiting for that miracle, so desperately clinging on to any shred of hope that they can latch on to. I’m sorry I felt this way in general about the book but again it’s nothing to do with the author because I thinks she is phenomenal just this one wasn’t the right one for me but I will always read whatever she publishes in the future.