A Mother Forever by Elaine Everest
Ruby is a strong woman in the first half of the twentieth century. From 1905, as she struggles to make a life for her young son George and the baby she is expecting, she is not much helped by her feckless husband Eddie, who has changed since their marriage. A complaining and unhelpful mother is little support as she moves into a new home, the house of her dreams. When a crisis happens, it throws up just how alone she is, until she is rescued by a kindly neighbour, Stella. This powerful and realistic novel from Elaine Everest is a sort of prequel to her much loved “The Woolworths Girls” series, telling the story of Ruby, the matriarch who welcomes all those in need. It is not necessary to have read the series to enjoy this book; the beauty of this novel is definitely lies in its skill in setting up some of the characters that will reappear later. In a flowing story that takes in apparent betrayal, loss and the struggles of life in the First World War, as well as the strength of friendship, love and hope, Everest tells a memorable story of the significance of a mother’s love, resilience and determination in the face of overwhelming pressure. The characters are well rounded and have real depth, from a small boy who is much loved to Frank, steadfast and complex, and Ruby herself, who grows throughout the novel while retaining her basic strength and much more. I enjoyed this book so much and was delighted to have the opportunity to read and review it.
As the book opens Ruby is struggling to move all her family’s possessions into a new house, after a long period of trying to manage in cramped and poor rented rooms. Her husband Eddie works as and when, and the lack of money for rent has seen them move on until she has lost every opportunity to work herself. When the chance of an actual house comes along, she is frustrated not to be able to see it first, but knows that she will fight to make a real home for her son, five year old George, and the baby she is carrying. Soon disaster strikes, and her mother and husband are unhelpful. Fortunately she is rescued by Stella, and soon comes close to a woman who supports her in so many ways. As she regains her strength, she takes a job which she hopes will help to guarantee the money for rent which the frequently absent Eddie either fails to provide or is inadequate. A terrible day means that everything seems in danger of disappearing, and she has to fall back on friends and sisters who feel that she has made wrong choices. As a War approaches, her friend Stella’s sons and others feel the pull of volunteering to fight, and even the peaceful Frank comes under pressure. How will Stella cope, and can Ruby retain the fragile hope she has for the future?
This book is a remarkably powerful testimony to the gentle power of friendship and the strains that can be placed on relationships by overwhelming loss and the fear of betrayal. I have enjoyed Everest’s books set during the Second World War; this book captures well he anguish caused by a war mainly fought in France but which affected so many people. The element of work in munitions conveys the effort made by so many women to help, and the real dangers that they faced even after November 1918, with a touching memorial to those who died in a 1924 disaster. I recommend this novel to all who enjoy a female led story and vivid characters who come to personify the struggles of women in the first part of the twentieth century.