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Today bestselling author of the Howarth Family Saga, Judith Barrow shares an extract from her compelling family drama The Memory. A book that I can highly recommend.
About the book
Mother and daughter tied together by shame and secrecy, love and hate.
I wait by the bed. I move into her line of vision and it’s as though we’re watching one another, my mother and me; two women – trapped.
Today has been a long time coming. Irene sits at her mother’s side waiting for the right moment, for the point at which she will know she is doing the right thing by Rose.
Rose was Irene’s little sister, an unwanted embarrassment to their mother Lilian but a treasure to Irene. Rose died thirty years ago, when she was eight, and nobody has talked about the circumstances of her death since. But Irene knows what she saw. Over the course of 24 hours their moving and tragic story is revealed – a story of love and duty, betrayal and loss – as Irene rediscovers the past and finds hope for the future.
An extract from The Memory
The baby was in the old blue carrycot that had been mine and stored in the attic. I’d helped Dad to clean it up ages ago.
‘What’s she called?’ Mum didn’t answer. When I glanced at her she’d come out of the covers and was looking away from me, staring towards the window. Her fingers plucked at the cotton pillowcase. ‘Is she okay?’ I asked. The baby was so small; even though I could only see her head I could tell she was really little. I leaned over the carrycot. ‘Can I hold her?’
‘No,’ Dad’s hand rested on my shoulder, warm, gentle. ‘She’s too tiny.’ He paused, cleared his throat. ‘And she’s not well, I’m afraid.’
That frightened me. I studied my sister carefully; tiny flat nose between long eyes that sloped upwards at the outer corners. A small crooked mouth pursed as though she was a bit cross about something. I could see the tip of her tongue between her lips. ‘She doesn’t look poorly.’
I tilted my head one way and another, studying her from different angles. Nope, except for the little twist in her top lip, which was cute, she looked fine. ‘What’s she called?’ I asked again, watching her little face tighten and then relax as she yawned, then sighed.
Turning on her back, Mum slid down under the eiderdown. ‘Take it away,’ she mumbled.
At first I thought she was she talking about me. Had I done something to upset her or the baby? But then I thought perhaps having a baby made you cross so I decided to forgive her. In the silent moment that followed I heard the raucous cry of a crow as it landed, thump, on the flat roof of the kitchen outside the bedroom window.
‘What’s she called?’ I whispered to Dad, determined one of them would tell me. When there was still no reply I looked up at him and then back at my sister. ‘I’m going to call her Rose, ’cos that’s what her mouth looks like; a little rosebud, like my dolly’s.’
Dad gathered both handles of the carrycot and lifted it from the stand. ‘I’ll take her,’ he said and cocked his head at me to follow.
‘Do what you want.’ Mum’s voice was harsh. ‘I don’t want that thing near me.’
Then I knew she meant the baby; my baby sister. I was scared again. Something was happening I didn’t understand. But I knew it was wrong to call your baby ‘it’. It made me feel sick inside.
‘That’s mean,’ I whispered.
Mum held her hand above the covers. ‘Irene, you can stay. Tell me what you’ve been doing in school today.’ She pointed to the hairbrush on the dressing table, pushing herself up in the bed. ‘Fetch the brush; I’ll do your hair.’
The words were familiar; it was something she said every day. But her voice was different. It was as though she was trying to persuade me to do it. Like in school when one of your friends had fallen out with another girl and she was trying to get you on her side.’ It didn’t seem right; it didn’t seem like the mum I knew.
‘No, I’ll go with Dad.’ Suddenly I couldn’t bear to be anywhere near my mother. I held the end of the carrycot, willing Rose to wake up. And then she opened her eyes. And, even though I know now it would have been impossible, I would have sworn at that moment she looked right at me and her little mouth puckered into a smile.
That was the first time I understood you could fall in love with a stranger, even though that stranger is a baby who can’t yet talk.
And that you could hate somebody even though you were supposed to love them.
One of the recent reviews for the book
Barrow paints a complex emotional story written in first person where Irene tells her story in two time-frames. One is in present 2002, depicted in a 24 hour time-frame, and the past in flashbacks about what transpired in her life and lead to that one day.
Three women under one roof – Irene, her mother Lilian, and her Nanna, and Sam, Irene’s ever faithful and compassionate boyfriend, are the central characters, as well as little sister Rose, born with Down Syndrome, who dies at the age of 8 years old, and the secrets about her death that keep Irene connected to the house they grew up in together. The burning secret Irene carries will take a monumental twist near the end of this book. Rose is an embarrassment to her rotten mother Lilian, and Irene and Nanna are the ones who look after Rose.
Rose’s death creates a bigger distance between Irene and Lilian, spurring Irene’s anticipation to finally move away from home and finish her schooling for her dream to become a teacher. Only, there are obstacles at every milestone for Irene from her demanding, needy and lacking of compassion mother.
Lilian is a complicated, moody, miserable bitch, whose husband has left her, leaving Irene to put up with Lilian’s antics on a daily basis – seemingly no matter how far Irene flees does not stop Lilian and her demands. Thank goodness for Sam. Sam knows Lilian well and knows how she gets under Irene’s skin and staunchly supports Irene’s decisions, despite them often leaving Sam in second place to Irene’s worries concerning her mother and the indelible bond that remains between Rose and Irene even after her death.
Irene is the designated carer for everyone in this book – first Rose, then her Nanna, then Sam’s sick father, then her sick father, then her sick (in more ways than one, mother) – a modern day Florence Nightingale.
Sam is the ideal boyfriend and then husband who adores Irene. He’s been through a lot with Irene and her family woes, causing delays for them to make a life together. When they finally do make their life complete, once again ‘mother’ calls in her neediness. The mother who never had the time of day for Irene makes her a lucrative offer, which once again turns into a bad deal and should have had Irene running like a dog on fire. But instead, she flees back to her mother leaving Sam disappointed and dumbfounded.
The twist at the end focuses on the painful secret Irene has carried with her since Rose’s death. A lot of drama ensues between Irene and her terrible, ungrateful, undeserving mother as Irene once again sacrifices her happiness with Sam in order to pacify her mother. Irene is a great character of strength who takes on all the family problems in her selfless good and compassionate nature, even risking losing the love of her life, but does she? You’ll have to read to find out!
Read the other reviews and buy the book : Amazon UK
And: Amazon US
Also by Judith Barrow
Read all the reviews and buy the books: Amazon US
and: Amazon UK
Read more reviews and follow Judith: Goodreads
About Judith Barrow
Judith Barrow,originally from Saddleworth, a group of villages on the edge of the Pennines,has lived in Pembrokeshire, Wales, for forty years.
She has an MA in Creative Writing with the University of Wales Trinity St David’s College, Carmarthen. BA (Hons) in Literature with the Open University, a Diploma in Drama from Swansea University and She has had short stories, plays, reviews and articles, published throughout the British Isles and has won several poetry competitions..
She is a Creative Writing tutor for Pembrokeshire County Council and holds private one to one workshops on all genres.
Connect to Judith
Thanks for dropping in today and I hope you have enjoyed this short extract from The Memory and will head over to buy the book. If you are an author in the Cafe and Bookstore and would like to share an extract from your most recent book.. there is the link again: Share an Extract