I have so many thoughts and feelings about The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal that it is hard to know where to begin. First, I’ll say that I really enjoyed this novel, more than I expected to. It is a triumph that tackles so many different issues faced by women in today’s world. As always, Syal writes with humour and grace that never belittles the experiences of her characters.
The main issue in The House of Hidden Mothers is surrogacy, especially when it is farmed out to less developed parts of the world. In the story, Shyama is a successful and divorced woman in her 40s who journeys to her native India to seek out a surrogate when IVF treatments fail. Mala is an unhappily married village woman who sees surrogacy as a way out of her confining life. Yes, their paths cross and yes it is fraught with conflict – personal, moral and societal.
The things I appreciated about Syal’s take on this, is that she presents the many shades of grey in the issue. At times I felt Shyama was doing the right thing, at other times it just seemed so exploitative. And this was true of all of the issues Syal took on in her book. Nothing was as straight forward as it seemed.
Lest you think The House of Hidden Mothers is a weighty and depressing tome, I can assure you it isn’t. Syal is known for her humour and that comes through. The female friendships were very a la Sex in the City, a pet peeve of mine, but it worked. It also served to bust some frequent stereotypes of South Asian women.
Who would like this book? This would be fine fodder for a feminist book club. The House of Hidden Mother is full of strong women making good and bad decisions, but owning them. There are issues of discrimination, sexism, ageism, class, race, medical tourism … you name it. But I also think the novel could reveal some harsh truths about your own thinking that you may not want to face. I’d put Meera Syal along side Elif Shafak as a writer who reveals the ups and downs of multiculturalism in London.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley for review consideration.