Books & Literature

Book Review: The Push, by Ashley Audrain

THRILLER: What happens when your experience of motherhood is nothing at all what you hoped for, but everything you always feared?

The Push is a brilliant debut, and readers can prepare to be swept up in this superbly written suspense novel.

TW: Discussion of child abuse and neglect.

Blythe Connor asks herself the age-old question, “Will I be a good mother?” It’s a commonly asked question, wondered by women all around the world, but Blythe has good reason to ask. “The women in this family, we’re different …” she says to her husband. Blythe suffered abuse and neglect from her mother, who had suffered the same from Blythe’s grandmother. Blythe worries she will do the same to her own child.

When Violet is born, Blythe struggles to bond with the baby. With that struggle comes an uphill battle through the earliest years of motherhood that bears many of the hallmarks of postnatal depression, combined with the crumbling of Blythe’s marriage. However, compounding Blythe’s struggles is Violet’s behaviour. While Blythe’s husband sees it as nothing more than typical toddler behaviour, Blythe sees it as something more sinister. When a child falls to his death on the playground, Blythe’s suspicions intensify, but she is told that she’s imagining things, that Violet is the sweetest child. But is she?

The Push, by Ashley Audrain, calls into question nature versus nurture. Blythe struggles as a parent, often leaving Violet’s nappy unchanged or ignoring her cries for hours at a time. But it is never clear whether Violet’s increasingly hostile attitude is innate or resulting from Blythe’s own behaviour. We know what Blythe believes, but few other characters in the book agree with her.

This is a question that will plague readers until the very end. Audrain does a wonderful job at keeping the interpretation of events ambiguous, which is equal parts compelling and frustrating. The story is told from Blythe’s point of view, in second person, as a sort of confession to her ex-husband. She is a less-than-reliable narrator, leaving the reader questioning whether her point of view is really the true state of affairs. Periodically throughout the book, there are glimpses into the lives of Cecilia, Blythe’s mother, and Etta, Cecilia’s mother. These give more insight into the events that have shaped Blythe as a person, but also give a reprieve from the second person narrative.

The Push is a superbly written suspense novel, and it’s difficult to believe this is a debut. Ashley Audrain’s writing is well-paced and she is highly skilled at telling volumes with a simple gesture. Despite the infuriating ending, which I have no doubt was intended to provoke readers to throw the book at a wall, I highly recommend this book for fans of suspense and thrillers.

Reviewed by Kristin Stefanoff

Distributed by: Penguin Books Australia
Released: January 2021

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