Normal Women by Ainslie Hogarth: Losing the plot

Cover image for Normal Women by Ainslie HogarthThat’s an eye-catching cover, isn’t it? It’s what made me put up my hand for a proof when I spotted it on Twitter (can’t be doing with that X nonsense) and it fits the novel beautifully. I’d registered lots of love for Ainslie Hogarth’s Mothering but hadn’t got around to reading it which also made me keen. Normal Women follows Dani recently returned to her hometown before giving birth to Lotte to whom she’s now a full-time mother.

Naturally, the coffee shops appeared first. With a hermit crab’s entitlement, they began occupying the criminally small cubby-holes that developers like Clark carved from crumbling strips of brick storefront.

Thanks to her husband’s promotion, Dani is back in Metcalf somewhat unwillingly but knowing she doesn’t have a choice. She’d always thought she was destined to do something special but failed to equip herself with the skills to achieve it. Her father was the kingpin in the town whose Silver Waste Management Campus, with its young hipster employees, provides fertile ground for real estate developers like Clark, her husband. Dani slips into a routine with her old friend Anya, brunching with ‘mom friends’ to whom Dani persists in feeling superior until she’s brought up short by a realisation that she and her daughter are entirely financially dependent on Clark. A visit to the erstwhile red-light area, now gentrified and full of coffee shops, results in a discussion with the charismatic Renata. Then Renata disappears leaving Dani bereft and prey to ever more baroque theories as to what’s happened to this woman with whom she’s become obsessed.

And afterward they both felt better, Clark from having orgasmed and, in his own mind, delivered another stunning series of orgasms to Dani. And Dani enjoyed these postcoital moments as she did following any burst of productivity. She might have felt the same way after cleaning both bathrooms.  

Written in the kind of waspish, snarky tone which I enjoy, Hogarth’s novel has much to say about financial independence and the way the lack of it can tip the power balance in a relationship. It’s hugely entertaining for the most part, full of barbs hurled at ‘momfluencers’ and their curated Instagram accounts, forums in which women tell each other off, go into graphic detail about birth and compete over who’s bringing up baby best. Dani’s brunches with her ‘mom friends’ who believe in equality but avoid the word feminism are both funny and discomfiting. Clark does his best but he and Dani slip into gendered roles, inwardly berated by Dani who wages a silent war over their new espresso machine to which he seems oblivious. So far, so good, although somewhat depressing, but the plot woven around Renata’s disappearance peters out in rather implausible manner. A shame as, half-way through, I’d had Hogarth’s novel lined up as a book of this year.

Atlantic Books: London 9781805460039 320pages Hardback

20 thoughts on “Normal Women by Ainslie Hogarth: Losing the plot”

  1. The cover image kind of implies that this is set in the 1950s, but I can see from the mentions of Instagram that it’s the present day…

    Women in translation aside, I’m determined not to be swayed by lots of new fiction this year following some disappointments last year, but I do find your reviews very useful for my subscription readers!

    1. Definitely present day but drawing a tacit parallel with 1950s, ’60s housewives. It’s a clever cover!

      Very pleased to hear that, Jacqui, although I hope you have better luck if you do pick up a contemporary novel.

  2. The cover had me thinking Stepford Wives and I was surprised to see a contemporary setting. It does sound good in its look at momfluencers. Too bad the other thread wasn’t seen through well!

  3. I got pretty far into Motherthing, nearly two-thirds in fact, and rather enjoyed the comic horror approach to the mother-in-law’s suicide but didn’t think the tone rang true. I’m not sure I’d try Hogarth again.

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