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Soldier, Sailor

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Soldier, Sailor is about as perfect a piece of writing as you'll find. 

Written as a letter from a mother to a four year old son, to be read later, presumably in the event that the mother is no longer there to counsel the son in person. 

Because the mother, Soldier, is not adapting well to motherhood. Her son, Sailor, is perhaps difficult, but I suspect Soldier would not have found any baby easy. She finds herself cut off from her previous, youthful life and inhabiting a world where she is defined only as Sailor's mother. She has no adult company other than her career-focused husband. She has no respite from a 24/7 job of motherhood. She does not seem to have a magical maternal superpower to kick in at vital moments. The simplest things become a struggle - leaving the house, dressing, driving, shopping... 

Soldier is resentful that her husband is never there to share the load; and even more resentful that he expects her to take sole charge of the parenting; and super resentful that he judges her performance so negatively. In one memorable scene, buying a big boy's bed in Ikea, he explains that he only gets two days off a week and he is wasting one of them shopping for a bed. 

Soldier is at breaking point. She is ready to walk out on her marriage and, at one point, on Sailor. She describes great wells of love for Sailor, but there is also a resentment at his intrusion and the wedge he appears to be driving in the marriage. Soldier has two conflicting emotions and no immediate way to reconcile them. 

All this fails to describe the book - which is more of an essay than a novel. The choice of words is almost poetic. There is symbolism and many references to a wider world (especially David Bowie). All used to describe a life that seems mundane and, well, ordinary. While each chapter sets out a different episode, they all circle back to the same themes and inner emotions. It is really well done, and remarkably hard to describe. 

I have been a fan of Claire Kilroy's previous novels which been lively stories with surprising depths. Soldier, Sailor has dispensed with the story-led narrative completely and just focused on the depth of feeling. It is quite unlike anything Kilroy has written before, and surely represents her masterpiece. 


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