Some Give and Take

Original publish date: 12 August 2014

Motherhood. That all sacred experience and bond with another person. Ghosts. Those spectral beings whose existence is often contested and hardly understood. Bring these two concepts together and you get Siobhan Adcock’s debut novel The Barter.

Two mothers a century apart in strained marriages and with infant children struggle to maintain their identity. In contemporary times, Bridget is a former attorney who quit working to take care of her daughter Julie while her husband Mark works tirelessly. Thoughts of death plague Bridget and she has thought of herself as a ghost on a few occasions, so when she sees a ghost in her house, she struggles between being frightened and wanting to assert that this is her house and she should be the ghost there. At the turn of the 20th century, Rebecca marries her lifelong friend John and leaves the comfort of being a doctor’s daughter for the life of a farmer’s wife. After an incredibly strained relationship that begins their marriage, and on their wedding night no less, they have a son, Matthew, who serves as a reminder to Rebecca the stories her aunt told her of her mother, who gave an hour of her and Rebecca’s lives so that Rebecca would live.

The book alternates chapters to tell the story of each woman and her struggles. Death and the sacrifices associated with motherhood are prevalent in the story with its somewhat nebulous ideas that are loosely-related initially but are instinctively interconnected. And it all does come together in the end. The ghost story was a mystery that I enjoyed seeing unfold. I guess as someone who isn’t a mother and has no intentions of doing so in the foreseeable future, the mother aspect of the novel didn’t resonate with me and as that comprised the majority of the story, I was left a little “eh.” It did, however, have me think about my life as a daughter to my mother, but I don’t think it could ever be quite the same.

While reading, I was reminded of Kate Chopin’s The Yellow Wallpaper with the musings and ruminations the two women make, not to mention Bridget’s preoccupation with dark thoughts. There was an element of stream of consciousness with the use of italicized thoughts that lacked punctuation. The contemporary woman’s story didn’t need a whole lot of setting description as it is intimately familiar to readers; however, the setting and character descriptions for the 20th century German areas of Texas were thorough enough to provide a good visual as well as a sense of the history of the time, place, and people.

Overall, I’d give it a 3.5 out of 5 stars.

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