I feel like I’ve been waiting a lifetime for Magpie by Elizabeth Day to be released. I think I’ve had it on pre-order since the beginning of the year.
This is another contender for book of the year and just look at that cover.
It’s gripping, it’s dark, there’s plenty of twists, it’s very tense. It also puts an incredibly important and taboo subject matter at the heart of it….infertility.
The book opens with Marisa, a 28-year-old illustrator being shown a house in London, it’s the perfect home for her and her new boyfriend Jake to start a family. During the visit a Magpie swoops in and smashes vase.
I assume everyone’s familiar with the Magpie rhyme and the superstition attached to the bird. It isn’t a superstition I buy into, to be honest, I don’t walk around saluting Magpie’s, still the one for sorrow metaphor sets up a sense of foreboding and is the perfect opening for the next three hundred pages.
Marisa and Jake’s honeymoon period comes to an abrupt end when, struggling for money, they’re forced to take in a lodger. Enter Kate, who, Marisa feels is a little too over familiar, she crosses boundaries and takes a rather keen interest in Jake and the baby they’re hoping to have.
My unease grew as Marisa’s did, however, I thought I knew where this story was going, I thought I was going to end this book disappointed and then the twist came, and I was all in.
Once the narration swapped from Marisa to Kate, I second guessed the plot constantly. I couldn’t decide if either woman was reliable, I wasn’t sure which one was telling the truth, to be honest there were moments where I thought both could have been bending reality to suit their needs. That’s why I couldn’t stop reading it and why I couldn’t stop thinking about it while at work the next day, I kept going back and forth trying to figure it out.
Magpie is set up as domestic noir and, in some ways, it is but really at its heart is a story about motherhood.
There’s the woman whose mother abandoned her as a child, who has struggled ever since with feelings of rejection and loss. There’s the overbearing mother who can’t let her son go, who tries to control his life and who thinks no woman will ever be good enough for her son. Finally, there’s the woman who longs to be a mother.
This is a story about the all-consuming sadness that goes hand in hand with infertility. The desperate longing for something that may never happen, the feelings of failure and helplessness that couples face. It’s about the grief you feel when you don’t get pregnant, feeling taunted by your body every month when your period inevitably turns up. The mixed feelings of anger, obsession, resentment, sadness and then loss of hope when you’ve exhausted all your options.
Infertility isn’t an issue I’ve dealt with; I know plenty of women who have. Yet it is a subject that is still swept under the carpet and rarely discussed, Day doesn’t shy away from it. She never does, Day has detailed her own struggles with infertility and miscarriage in her memoir and through her podcast How to Fail, always brutally honest, never holding back from those emotions, always open, I’m sure it helps other women.
It’s because of that, the story of infertility in Magpie feels devastatingly real. The reader loses hope for the woman as she tells her story, I could recognise those emotions from the women I know, it’s what really makes this book a fascinating read. It helps you understand how others feel and gives you an idea of what it’s like to walk a mile in the shoes of a couple struggling to get pregnant, it also shows the great lengths that people will go to, to have a child.
It’s a triumph of a book, a story that has you questioning the motives of the characters while having empathy for them. Full of suspense, a whole load of tension and a great ending, it’d make a fantastic TV series and most importantly it was a story that needed to be told.
A fascinating five star read!
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm