The cycle will continue until it’s broken, and it’s still going strong.
First Published: 15th September 2014
Date Reviewed: 18th August 2014
Michele and Jim’s marriage is on the rocks, and Jim is against Michele’s mother moving in. Clara doesn’t want to live in a nursing home, nor does she particularly want to live in Michele’s basement, but Hilary has no space and no one will let her live alone. Michele has little time and a lot of responsibility – she’s not making enough effort in her marriage and she’s certainly not a model daughter… It’s never that easy.
Clara’s Daughter is an excellent follow up to Ziervogel’s Magda and, like its predecessor packs a lot of punch in a very short space of time.
The book creeps up on you. It starts out well enough – the writing good, the initial themes easy to identify – but it still takes a fair few chapters to really get into the story. This is to its merit. Although clear from the start, it can take a while for the structure of the novel to truly seep its way into your reading, and so there comes a point, likely slightly different for each reader, at which you’ve suddenly a deluge of questions you want answered as you notice a myriad of elements all at once.
The book doesn’t read from start to finish, as far as events go. Neither is it really structured into dual plot lines. The chapters are roughly sorted into ‘then’ and ‘now’ but you have to keep your wits about you, not only to remember (or realise in some places) what time ‘period’ you’re reading about, but also to work out just what is going on.
This may sound complex, but it’s a necessary complexity. Ziervogel effectively ends the story in the middle of the book, meaning that the remainder of the time is geared to showing the reader the ‘how’ rather than the ‘what’. Depending on your particular reading you may deem some of what follows the end not so relevant – it’s worth noting that this is a book that begs a re-read (and it’s short enough to do so soon) – and it all comes down to which character or which element you are most drawn to, which you have chosen to focus on. The whole idea of the ‘how’ being far more important than the ‘what’ is by itself a fine reason to decide to read the book.
The story details both Michele and her mother, Clara. It may be called Clara’s Daughter, but the title isn’t to suggest that Michele is the only person you’ve to think about. She is the main person, yes, and everything that happens leads to her life changing, or a reaction, or a forced decision. And yes, she is often ‘Clara’s daughter’ rather than ‘Michele’ (more on that in a moment). But in order to understand Michele, you must meet Clara. It is the old, acknowledged cycle – in many cases you’re likely to make the same choices and live similarly to your parents unless you actively break the mould. In seeing things from Clara’s perspective, and from knowing her own hopes, worries, life, you get a better insight into Michele. You get a better insight into how the cycle ‘works’ in general. And there is much to take away, enough that you might recognise something that’s the same or at least similar in your own life – reading the book lets you see it from another perspective.
Who, then, is Michele? Michele is torn between who she wants to be, who she is, and who others want her to be. Each of the three Micheles differ. Likewise Michele has a responsibility to herself but is caught up in her responsibilities to her mother and husband. Yes, her husband, too – the seemingly lacking amount of time she spends on the relationship, at least if we believe Jim and take Michele’s turning him away in favour of her mother as evidence, is actually balanced by her constant thoughts about the marriage. Ultimately the time she doesn’t spend on herself comes back to haunt her. Michele is Jim’s Wife, Hilary’s Sister, Clara’s Daughter. Given the way Clara often speaks of her, the reader can assume she is not always ‘Michele’.
A few chapters imply a foisting of responsibility from Hilary to Michele. Hilary wants her mother near, but she has no time and can’t take Clara in. Yet Clara, for a while, speaks more highly of her than Michele. You’ll want to know more about whether what Clara says about Hilary is true, but Ziervogel stays silent. You have to work out whether that’s even important.
Ziervogel’s second novel reminds us that whilst we have and should have responsibilities to others, we have to make time for ourselves. It reminds us that we have to communicate effectively and that it’s vital to work out which option is most important. And it reminds us that our parents’ relationship can affect us without us realising.
Clara’s Daughter is superb. Plan double the amount of time you need to read it, because you’re going to want to read it twice in quick succession.
I received this book for review from the author.
August 25, 2014, 6:43 am
Dunno if I have ever even heard of about this one
August 25, 2014, 10:39 am
So excellent when the second book is as good as the first! They both sound intriguing – love when a book begs a reread as you say – suggests there is so much there to consider.
August 25, 2014, 11:42 am
Sounds very interesting! I loved Magda, so I’d definitely like to read this next novel.
August 26, 2014, 1:39 pm
A book it seems readers either love or loathe. I’m so glad you enjoyed it.
September 2, 2014, 5:29 pm
I’m so familiar with Ziervogel as a publisher that it seems weird that I haven’t read her books yet! Her writing sounds so different, I know I ought to get to it at some point. Not sure with which book to begin, though…
September 2, 2014, 6:30 pm
Nice review, Charlie! I agree, the structure works really well. Introduces some surprises towards the end. So the complexity is indeed necessary. I’d have preferred a little more on Clara and Michele, and not so much on Jim, but I agree, it’s an excellent read.