Trigger warning: this month’s book club pick contains references to miscarriage and baby loss.
The Whispers in the title of this book are described within it as those, ‘moments that are trying to tell you something isn’t quite right here. The problem is some women aren’t listening to what their lives are trying to tell them.’
In this dark family drama, by the author of The Push, we’re introduced to four women whose lives are, for very different reasons, not quite right. Not that you would know it to meet them.
In a seemingly warm and friendly Wisteria Lane-like road, we meet Blair, a devoted mother of one who seems to have lost herself wholly to motherhood. Across the way is Mara, one half of an elderly Portuguese couple, who still remembers the hardships and heartbreak of motherhood only too well.
Then there is Rebecca, a kind and capable doctor, whose calm life, we soon discover, is anything but. And then we have Whitney, perhaps the most complex and polarising of the mothers on the road; Blair’s best friend, beautiful, with the biggest house, a stellar career, and three beautiful children.
And it’s in Whitney’s stylish and catered backyard party where our story begins, when her neighbours and the other mothers at her children's school accidentally overhear her losing her temper with her young son, Xavier. Nine months later, he ends up in a coma after an incident in the middle of the night that nobody seems to know anything about. Least of all Whitney, who sits silently by his bed as he fights for life.
As the story unfolds, Audrain urges us to take an unflinching look at marriage and motherhood, and the places where it takes us.
‘I’ve always had this fascination with motherhood, long before I had children,’ the author, who has two children aged five and eight, tells Grazia. ‘When I was a young woman I looked around me at the women who were mothers and thought, why do they want to do this? What’s compelling them? Because all I saw was a lot of sacrifice, especially from my mother’s generation.
‘As I got older I was told that, of course I’d want to have them some day, and I did, but I found the messages we receive around motherhood a confusing thing to grow up with. And then there’s the judgement and shame around the decisions we make – or don’t make – as mothers. There are a lot of dark and complicated feelings wrapped around motherhood, and that’s what I wanted to explore and write about in this book.’
It also takes an honest look at female friendships, especially the ones you form when you’re thrown together by circumstance, your children, or sheer proximity.
‘I loved writing about the women’s friendships – especially Blair and Whitney’s – and especially those friendships that look unlikely at first glance. I think women are often attracted to friends who have qualities that they themselves are missing, but admire or even envy. And if we’re really honest with ourselves, there’s a power imbalance in almost every female friendship, with one friend often having the upper hand.’ Just who has that hand, in this page-turner of a book, soon becomes clear.
1. The Whispers
The explosive new novel from the bestselling author of The Push
Grazia Book Club gives its verdict:
‘The novel opens in a suburban garden and packs a punch by the end of the first chapter. This is essentially a story of motherhood, raw, sometimes unflinching, populated by characters that at times are hard to get to know, offering glimpses into lives lived behind seemingly conventional facades.’ Tina
‘In this chilling psychological novel we follow the lives of four women, living next to one another, but keeping their secrets behind closed doors. It is a fantastically written and quietly chilling exploration of motherhood, its complexities and the sinister secrets we hide from those around us.’ Aisha
'Ashley Audrain is a fantastic writer who has a way of getting under a reader’s skin and freaking them out; we all know motherhood isn’t easy but in The Whispers we are exposed to an entirely new level of questionable parental decisions. With despicable - yet oddly relatable - characters, this book will leave you torn between wanting to know what happens and being terrified to find out.' Michaela