In My Mother's Hands: A disturbing memoir of family life
Allen & Unwin, $29.99 pb, 280 pp
For anyone who has ever complained about a difficult mother, or written a memoir about one, this is a humbling book. How trivial, by comparison, our complaints seem. The subtitle promises (or threatens) a disturbing memoir, and so it is. I found it difficult to get out of my head days after reading it.
Biff (born Elizabeth in 1942) Ward was the second child of historian Russel Ward, author of The Australian Legend (1958), and his wife Margaret. Their first child, Alison, had died at four months old, drowned accidentally when her mother fainted while bathing her. Russel told Biff this when she was five or six. That death haunted Biff’s childhood, but it was only much later that she discovered what had really happened. The unveiling of this secret is kept to the end, but its looming presence gives the narrative a creepy power.