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A Life's Work: On Becoming a Mother Paperback – March 1, 2003

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Taking an unsentimental approach to one of the most dramatic changes in a woman's life, British novelist Cusk (The Country Life) dissects the process of new motherhood from a psychological and emotional perspective. Now the mother of two, Cusk found the early weeks and months with a dependent newborn far from idyllic and rewarding, and her description of that time fills in the gaps left by most pregnancy and child-rearing books. Her dry, honest style is a refreshing change for anyone seeking to understand the daily realities of undertaking such an enormous responsibility. Despite a tone that is at times bleak and foreboding, Cusk perfectly captures the inherent conflict between the pleasures known before baby and those that the baby brings, noting, for example, "it is when the baby sleeps that I liaise, as if it were a lover, with my former life," but "sometimes I miss the baby and lie beside her cot while she sleeps." Cusk details her struggles with the major tasks all new mothers face, like feeding and sleep, and she addresses the challenge not only to do what is best for the baby, but also to maintain a sense of self and autonomy in the face of such constant, overwhelming need. Although not a cheerful baby shower gift book, Cusk's brutal honesty will certainly be appreciated by many new moms, assuring them they are not alone. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

"If at any point in my life I had been able to find out what the future held, I would always have wanted to know whether or not I would have children," writes Cusk, an award-winning British novelist, in her nonfiction debut. The clarity of her writing matches its depth of content, as Cusk endeavors to discover what it means to be a parent. Ultimately, what Cusk offers is an expos‚ of motherhood that extracts its myths and reworks them into personal truths. She reexamines the teachings of traditional child rearing books to find that their once relevant answers are now outdated and only served to increase her feelings of inadequacy as a mother. Perhaps the most valuable aspect of this book is its accessibility, allowing mothers from all situations and backgrounds to unite in understanding. Recommended for all public libraries.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 228 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; Reprint edition (March 1, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312311303
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312311308
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (43 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #395,423 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

37 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Marni Frankel on October 3, 2005
Format: Paperback
I spent a long time reading and re-reading Cusk's introduction. In fact, I spent a whole lot more time with the introduction than the rest of the book. [There was much in the book proper that didn't resonate, though through and through I admired her brave straightforwardness.] This said, the introduction spoke to me in no uncertain terms, and it was quite a relief to find someone who could so eloquently express some of the feelings and changes that I, and presumably others -- though perhaps not the majority -- experienced after the birth of my two children.

Unlike Cusk, never did I mull at length over the question of "having children" nor did I view it as anything other than something exciting - something that would enhance my life, my story so to speak. So what was it about this book, even over Lammott's "Operating Instructions", that I found validating? Just this: the fact that precisely because she had a child, her "appetite" for living - for wanting to live - was "insatiable". And even though in the same breath she also delves into her loss of freedom(s), I'm happy to set that aside for now.

In her marvelous introduction she states three truths that I find incontrovertible: 1) "A day spent at home caring for a child could not be more different from a day spent working in an office. Whatever their relative merits, they are days spent on opposite sides of the world." 2) "Another person has existed in her, and after their birth they live within the jurisdiction of her consciousness. When she is with them she is not herself; when she is without them she is not herself; and so it is as difficult to leave your children as it is to stay with them.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 19, 2002
Format: Hardcover
I couldn't wait to read this book because 1) I really enjoy Rachel Cusk's novels and 2) I had just become a new mother.
I was not disappointed--Rachel tells it like it is. She talks about all the difficult and ambivalent feelings of becoming a mother that most of us have kept to ourselves.
The regret and the irrationality, the pride and protectiveness, the "out of body" experience that nobody can prepare you for--Rachel describes it all. With a great sense of humor and humanity, this book helped me make sense of my own experience of new motherhood.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hamel VINE VOICE on September 25, 2003
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Rachel Cusk's A Life's Work is an insightful, honest, and sometimes hilarious account of pregnancy and early motherhood. The author tells the story of her own metamorphosis from independent entity to "motherbaby" unit in rough chronological order: from the alarmist literature of pregnancy, which "bristles with threats and the promise of reprisal" for expectant mothers who violate dietary prescriptions; to the propaganda of natural childbirth advocates ("Some women find birth the most intensely pleasurable experience of their lives"), those souls who maintain that a procedure akin to, say, squeezing a cantaloupe out of one's anus can be rendered nearly pain-free, indeed "pleasurable", by the simple adoption of an embarrassing breathing technique; to a mother's shocking, sudden immersion into an alien world of sleeplessness and isolation. (The immediacy of the metamorphosis is brought home to the author soon after she delivers her daughter by caesarian: "Do you want to try putting her to the breast? the midwife enquires as I am wheeled from the operating theatre. I look at her as if she has just asked me to make her a cup of tea, or tidy up the room a bit. I still inhabit that other world in which, after operations, people are pitied and looked after and left to recuperate." )

Cusk's account is a quick read, her prose very often elegant. She hits a number of nails squarely on the head--in her descriptions of the constant demands made on breastfeeding mothers, for example, or the drama and tension inherent in bringing a baby out into the public, or one's cautious anticipation of freedom when it looks like the kid may finally sleep.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Angela on August 21, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I found this to be an unbelievably honest chronicle of one woman's ambivalance regarding her journey into the world of motherhood and all that it entails. This is not a how-to advice book so people should look elsewhere for that. Rather, it is a literary masterpiece in my opinion-full of humor and honesty at the sometimes ridiculous moments that one endures when figuring out how to take care of one's own baby. For example, she describes with vivid detail a breastfeeding clinic she attended that was prefaced by sitting in a sweltering, packed waiting room filled with mothers and babies: "The other women laugh and talk loudly, their faces flushed with the room's heat. They manhandle their babies distractedly, turning them this way and that...They flail and grizzle, their red little faces peevish as the faces of old men. Bonnets and booties and mittens on strings fly from agitated limbs. The babies boil like a row of angry kettles." p 100.
This book is filled with the humor and imagery of the foolish and sometimes insufferable aspects of mother hood which I find a huge relief. In Cusk's voice I hear the sense of being a stranger in a strange land and I can totally identify. I have two daughters and found her voice to be my own (if I could write brillaintly, that is.)
Whether describing her c-section or her reaction to the ever-popular mother's group, I found myself agreeing and at times laughing out loud. I read passages to my husband stating, "See, this is exactly how I feel."
When I read some of the negative reviews, I think they may misunderstand her writing. If becoming a mother knocked your sense of self out the window and you recognize that there is ambivalence and humor in all aspects of the journey for you AND your child, then you will find gain something from reading this book.
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