05 October 2013

Review: Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Mother, Mother by Koren Zailckas

Published: 17 September 2013 by Crown

Pages: 384 (ebook)

Genre/s: Psychological fiction

Source: Publisher for review


Josephine Hurst has her family under control. With two beautiful daughters, a brilliantly intelligent son, a tech-guru of a husband and a historical landmark home, her life is picture perfect. She has everything she wants; all she has to do is keep it that way. But living in this matriarch’s determinedly cheerful, yet subtly controlling domain hasn’t been easy for her family, and when her oldest daughter, Rose, runs off with a mysterious boyfriend, Josephine tightens her grip, gradually turning her flawless home into a darker sort of prison. 

Resentful of her sister’s newfound freedom, Violet turns to eastern philosophy, hallucinogenic drugs, and extreme fasting, eventually landing herself in the psych ward. Meanwhile, her brother Will shrinks further into a world of self-doubt. Recently diagnosed with Aspergers and epilepsy, he’s separated from the other kids around town and is homeschooled to ensure his safety. Their father, Douglas, finds resolve in the bottom of the bottle—an addict craving his own chance to escape. Josephine struggles to maintain the family’s impeccable fa├žade, but when a violent incident leads to a visit from child protective services, the truth about the Hursts might finally be revealed.

My Thoughts

I've been reading psychological thrillers like they are going out of print recently.  I think it's to do with the fact that I wasn't reading as much as I normally did for a long period, and a good psychological thriller has the ability to really grab me and keep me reading no matter what.  

Told in the alternating POVs of the middle Hurst child, Violet, and the youngest, Will, Mother, Mother is an intimate, frightening look at how a family can go so very wrong on the inside, whilst maintaining a fairly regular appearance to the outside world.

Josephine, the mother, is a control freak, and Zailckas makes that clear from the very beginning - there's no attempting to hide her obvious narcissism, but it is the way it manifests and emerges further through the story that kept me reading.  I wanted to see what lengths she would go to to keep her perfect world perfect.  As a character she is obviously disturbing and very unlikeable, but it's very well disguised, and I even started to doubt myself part way through - was Josephine really a nasty bitch, or was it all in MY head? 

As a character it's difficult to empathise with Will, but I felt that was done purposefully to show the level of control Josephine had over him, and the effects of isolation on an a child - without a chance to interact with the outside world on a regular, normal basis, he withdraws further and further into himself and falls heavily under his mother's control.  Violet, on the other hand, I found far more interesting, particularly as her story started to emerge fully in the second half of the book.

I do wish that there had been more focus on Douglas, and perhaps even a POV of his own, as his story was more told through the eyes of Will and Violet, but it was intriguing to see how a relationship such as that of Douglas and Josephine can go so terribly wrong.

Zailckas' choice to reveal her main characters' weaknesses right from the beginning pays off in Mother, Mother - by allowing the reader to know them from the first page, it made for compulsive reading, and as I mentioned earlier, it actually started to make me wonder if the characters really were as they were insinuated, or whether I was missing something obvious.

However, there are a few things that I struggled with - firstly, there is a terrible secret that is revealed towards the end of the book (I don't consider this a spoiler, because it's an obvious part of the plot) but by the time I made it that far into the story I was immune to really being shocked by it considering Josephine's earlier behaviour.  Connected to that, having the main characters flaws laid bare in the early part of the story perhaps removed some of the gasp-out-loud moments - I was expecting things to go wrong all the time.

Mother, Mother is a psychological almost-thriller that kept me reading like a car crash - at times I wanted to look away, but my mind kept being drawn back into the story.


  1. I was wondering if I should give this a go lately - now that I've read your review, I've really got to get my hands on a copy!


    1. I really enjoyed it - definitely one that's hard to put down!



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