Books

Normal Women by Ainslie Hogarth – a dark take on suburban motherhood

The follow-up to Motherthing explores the dark side of modern parenting

Normal Women by Ainslie Hogarth cover

Perhaps I am cursed to begin every year with a novel about a woman’s marital struggles. Perhaps every year an author needs to remind us of the archaic heteronormative structure that many still wish to tie themselves to, thinking that their experience is unique enough that they won’t fall into the same patterns of behaviour.

Ainslie Hogarth’s Normal Women follows new mother and wife Dani as she finds herself living the normal life she never thought she would. She was certain from Clark’s hands-on parenting in the early days of their newborn baby that things would be different for her. But after Clark’s promotion and necessary location change the couple find themselves in suburbia and Dani finds herself leading the life of one of the normal women.

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The domestic horror is familiar terrain for Hogarth, as we saw with her last novel Motherthing, an aspic-inspired maternal horror. While Hogarth’s new novel does not launch itself fully into the horror genre, Dani is terrorised by the cohort of extremely online mothers who patrol Mumsnet. Dani is fighting the early stages of postnatal depression and feels as if she’s the only woke mum in a gaggle of neo-Stepford Wives. Dani is lost, but she believes she’s found her calling when she meets Renata, the sexually free spiritual leader who works at The Temple. 

Hogarth’s latest novel is well meaning in its attempts to remove discrimination from sex work and question the pressures society places on mothers. While in reality sex workers fight for the role to be seen as just any other job, Hogarth puts sex work on an unnecessary pedestal, championing it as a radical role and part of the “crucial feminine”.

As Dani learns more about Renata’s cult-like role in The Temple it feels no different from the Mumsnet hivemind, and it is here that Normal Women’s critique falls apart. As while Dani desires more outside the binary she has found herself trapped in, by using the gendered language to dismantle itself the binary is instead reinforced.

Normal Women by Ainslie Hogarth cover

Billie Walker is a freelance journalist.

Normal Women by Ainslie Hogarth is out now (Atlantic, £16.99). You can buy it from The Big Issue shop on Bookshop.org, which helps to support The Big Issue and independent bookshops.

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