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Mother Mother by Annie MacManus: A capable debut full of raw truths

Novel about a working-class Belfast family is honest, emotional and a bloody good read

Mother Mother
Mother Mother
Author: Annie MacManus
ISBN-13: 978-1472275882
Publisher: Wildfire
Guideline Price: £16.99

The most immediately likable thing about Mother Mother is that it doesn’t try to be what it’s not. By that, I mean that it’s entirely unpretentious. I read this novel directly after reading the latest instalment of Deborah Levy’s memoir-style trilogy, Real Estate. And after all that gilded, stylish language wrapped around a big pile of nothing much, Mother Mother was an absolute tonic.

The writing here is uncomplicated and unaffected, the dialogue realistic and the depth of feeling at times stunning. In spite of being Annie MacManus’s debut, we find an assured authorial voice; it’s all show-not-tell, yet without any of the usual exposed nails and joists of writing classes on display. This is a novel that does exactly what it’s supposed to, and does so with real skill.

No, it’s not revolutionary, it won’t stop all the clocks, but, again, I don’t think the author intended it to do so. (She being the Radio 1 DJ known widely as Annie Mac – a fact that made me nervous to review the book, fearing another instalment of the auld “Look, a celebrity has written a novel – buy now!” trend.)

Instead, MacManus proves a genuinely capable novelist, one especially talented at depicting the realities of a broken, working-class Belfast family, and their grim, shifting tides of love and despair. We’re presented with three generations of lost people, trying (and often failing) to make their lives work, in the face of the brutality of living in a harsh, sometimes violent environment. They’re isolated in their shared grief, at a loss as to how to feel, how to cope.


Small details, such as the mustard-coloured stains on the outside of a toilet bowl, the whiteheads clustered at the side of a teenager’s nose, the stale smell of alcohol on breath, seamlessly and elegantly immerse the reader in their world. Difficult topics such as addiction and consent are explored with understated grace, leaving us, not with didactic judgments (there is no hashtagable philosophising), but the raw, true realities of things as they are.

And, ultimately, I’m not sure what higher praise there could be for a traditional novel than to say it manages to convey things as they truly are (while still being a bloody good read, of course).