Welcome to our new GWG book club, which kicks off with the startlingly brilliant My Wild and Sleepless Nights. Join us, and set your brain free – even while under lock and key.
Each month, our team of keen readers will pick a book, review it and encourage you to read it, too. We hope this will kick start a lively and fruitful discussion on Instagram (@thegoodwebguide). All we ask is that you relax, read the book and let us know what you thought of it.
Our monthly recommendations will come from across our whole team and across every genre. There will be diverting novels, hard-hitting literary fiction, beautiful travel writing and much more. You are bound to love some titles and like others less – but they will all throw up valuable and amusing talking points.
Several studies have shown the benefits of belonging to a book club (whether virtually or IRL). Being part of a book club can: reduce stress; decrease anxiety; encourage new perspectives; and win new friends. One study – whose results were published in the British Medical Journal – even suggests that membership of a book club can help you live longer.
Our GWG Book Club choice for the month of April is My Wild and Sleepless Nights by Clover Stroud. This emotional rollercoaster of a memoir examines the joy and the madness of the journey that is motherhood.
What enables a person to write about motherhood with the brutal honesty that Clover Stroud does? Obvious contributing factors include being exceptionally thoughtful and good at putting pen to paper. Having five children probably helps. But being left effectively motherless at the age of 16 (which Stroud was when her adored mother had a riding accident, fell into a coma and subsequently died) must play a pretty large part, too.
Stroud’s new memoir, My Wild and Sleepless Nights, charts the year when she gives birth to her fifth baby – amid the loving tumult of the children she already has – and continues to navigate her journey as a happy mother, tired wife and conflicted woman.
From nappies, mess and milk to tears, rage and ecstasy, it is all there and so brilliantly evoked that you feel, as you devour it, that she might be inside your own head.
Women take to motherhood in millions of different, nuanced ways. It threatens to break some and evidently makes others. It offers moments of unbridled joy and ones of brain-frying boredom. It is a privilege and a pleasure and a pain. The vast majority of us don’t put into words anything of how we really feel about it, though.
What Stroud does in this book is feel all of those things profoundly and encapsulate them perfectly. She issues a vital reminder to all mothers – whether they are flagging during lockdown or not – when she says: ‘The mundane can mask an overwhelmingly meaningful experience.’
Do not read My Wild and Sleepless Nights expecting it just to be a cosy tale of digestive biscuits and domestic toil, however. A broadly contented – if chaotic – tableau is interwoven with moments that are arrestingly visceral. It sits uncomfortably when she likens labour to the high you feel when you take Ecstasy or describes how pressing on her clitoris distracts her from the pain. She does not hold back about her sex life, either.
The book packs its most powerful punch when Stroud is juggling the normal demands of life at the helm of a large family with the management of her increasingly wayward son Jimmy, who is 15 at the start.
His teenage needs come to her as a terrible shock. She doesn’t know how to mother him. This isn’t what her precious vision of parenthood looks like. She loves him with the same ferocity that she loved him when he was a tiny baby; but she is losing him and he is losing his way. “I had my eye on the wrong child, all the time,” she writes. There but for the grace of God go all of us…
Stroud repeatedly asks the question: who am I apart from being a mother? The truth is, she is far too busy being a mother to answer it in the book. But she inspires us to ask the same of ourselves. She is such an emotional writer that I had to sit and ponder the book and that question, tears rolling down my face, long after I’d finished it.
Stroud lives in Oxfordshire with her husband, massive brood and dog, Pablo. Before writing and children took over, her life was almost unbelievably colourful. She ran away to Ireland with gypsies, worked in Texas as a cowgirl, rode horses in rodeos and travelled across Russia by train.
Her first book – the critically acclaimed The Wild Other: A Memoir of Love, Adventure and How to Be Brave – is also autobiographical. With her exquisite insight, experience and skill, it is high time Stroud added a novel to our shelves.
For more reviews. come on, join our club. You know you want to…
My Wild and Sleepless Nights by Clover Stroud is published by Doubleday (£16.99), and is available on Amazon.
By Becky Ladenburg
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