Grazia Book Club: Emily Edwards’s The Herd

This unputdownable debut looks at how friends can turn to foes when they disagree over vaccines

The Herd

by Maria Lally |

It would be hard to think of a more timely tale. Two mothers, bound by years of friendship but with starkly different views on vaccinations, clash in the most heart wrenching way possible. The idea for this brilliant new debut, however, was conceived well before the pandemic. But reading it, as we emerge from two years of lockdown and all the wrangling about doing the right thing that came with it, grips you from the start.

The two mothers in question, Elizabeth and Bry, have been best friends since university, live on the same suburban street, and are godmothers to each other’s children, but that’s where the similarities end. Elizabeth is a Type-A mother; organised, immaculate, and a former solicitor who swapped the city for raising her three children in a picture-perfect home. A little too tightly wound for some, but not Bry, who is Elizabeth’s best friend but polar opposite; bohemian, artistic, disorganised. Or, as the author sums it up in the first chapter: ‘Elizabeth kept all her receipts, Bry stored fivers in her bra’. But despite their differences, the two women were ‘a weird, unexpected pairing that just worked.’

That it until the issue of childhood vaccinations rears its head, and along with it the thorny debate over whether our choice to vaccinate is personal – or one that affects the whole community.

‘I had the idea for the book in the summer of 2018, well before Covid came along,’ Emily tells Grazia. ‘It was a boiling hot July day, and I was eight months pregnant with my first child. I was one of those first-time mums who did hypno-birthing, I hired a doula, and I wanted a home birth. One day my doula, who felt that babies are given too many vaccines and began reeling off a list of reasons why we should hold back, and my husband who is very pro-science and was adamant our baby would be vaccinated, had a heated debate. It was so polarising, tribal, and emotional. And from that, the idea for this book was born.’

Despite such a contentious issue, the author manages to make neither heroes nor villains of the two main characters, as we watch their friendship implode after a chain of heart-breaking events that ends up in the courtroom, as well as the other characters we meet along the way. The 80-something with a polio-withered leg, the internet troll who wishes death on anti-vaxxers, the husband who wants to support his wife, while fearing for the health of his child.

‘More so than ever, we live in a polarised world,’ says Emily. ‘With Brexit it’s, are you in or are you out? With vaccines it’s, are you for them or against them? Battle lines and sides are drawn up without pausing to try and understand why the other person thinks and feels that way. Every opinion we have is weighted with our own experiences, and the different pressures we feel from those around us. I wanted the reader to see that in life there isn’t always a straightforward right or wrong.’

The author goes on to tell Grazia that, despite her hopes for a home birth she ended up with a three day labour and a c-section. ‘That was the perfect entry into writing the book, in a way. When it comes to motherhood we go into it with set views, thinking we know what kind of mother we’ll be, and believing we can control the things around us. Before quickly learning that life often has other plans, and we can’t really control anything, as the characters in the book soon discover.’

The Herd by Emily Edwards is out now

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