Monday, May 4, 2009

"Yes, My Darling Daughter"

Margaret Leroy was born in England and studied music at Oxford. She has worked as a music therapist, teacher, and psychiatric social worker. Her novels include Trust, Alysson’s Shoes, Postcards from Berlin, and The River House.

She applied the “Page 69 Test” to her new novel, Yes, My Darling Daughter, and reported the following:
Grace's four year old daughter Sylvie is frightened of water, has terrible tantrums that her nursery school can't cope with, and refuses to call her mother "Mum". On p. 69, Grace has brought her daughter to see a child psychiatrist, Dr. Strickland, in an attempt to find out what's wrong with her. Grace is desperate, as her life is slowly collapsing around her. The psychiatrist has his own ideas about what's wrong with Sylvie.

I wonder what he is going to say about me. I feel a dull, heavy ache in my chest.

He leans toward me, his fingertips pressed together in mock prayer.

"There was something that concerned me when I saw the two of you play." His voice is intimate, confiding. "I noticed that she doesn't call you Mum or Mummy. And I wondered why you'd objected to that?"

"It was Sylvie's decision," I tell him.

A picture slides into my mind. Sylvie is two, and we're in the garden by the mulberry tree. I kneel in front of her, cradling her face in my hands. Sweetheart, I want you to call me Mum. That's what children do, that's what Lennie calls her mother... She turns away from me, her silk hair shading her face. No, Grace.

"She's never called me Mum," I say.

Doubt flickers over his face. I know he doesn't believe this.

"You see, what concerns me here is your rather weak boundary setting. That there isn't a clear enough boundary between yourself and your child. That's so important for successful parenting. Sylvie needs to know you're the adult, that you're the one in charge. It's not so healthy for children to feel their parent is their best friend."

"I don't think she sees me like that," I say.

But I know he isn't listening.

Yes, My Darling Daughter is in a way a ghost story, about a child who seems to be haunted by a past life. What I especially loved in writing the story was the sense of the unseen breaking in on the present, and the collision between the everyday and the uncanny. So Grace lives in a familiar world of Hallowe'en parties, playdates, Shaun the Sheep rucksacks - yet has to deal with something that can't be explained. Why does Sylvie sob in the night and say she wants to go home? Why is she so obsessed with a picture of an Irish seaside town called Coldharbour? The people around Grace - other mothers, nursery school teachers - come up with all sorts of sensible explanations for her daughter's disturbed behaviour - as in this scene, where Dr. Strickland blames Grace's parenting style. Yet his theories, like everyone else's, are absolutely no use in making sense of Sylvie - a child who weeps for a life she has lost, and exactly remembers a place where she has never been.
Learn more about the book and author at Margaret Leroy's website.

Visit the complete list of books in the Page 69 Test Series.

--Marshal Zeringue