I must admit that this book lay unread on my bedside table for quite a long time. From the reviews I’d read, I knew it dealt with the subject of surrogacy: I did enjoy The Two Week Wait by Sarah Rayner, which helped me understand the pain of childless couples, but having spent most of my adult life trying not to get pregnant I can only really engage as an interested bystander. So what a wonderful surprise this book was.
Claire and Ben – a truly golden couple that I found it difficult to engage with at the start – have been trying to have a baby for a very long time. After yet another unsuccessful bout of IVF, she is ready to give up – a decision Ben finds difficult to understand and accept, and the tiny cracks in the marriage begin to show. Ben has a close friend from university days, Romily, who is the absolute opposite of cool sophisticated Claire, lurching from crisis to crisis while looking after her daughter Posie. During a drunken night in the pub, Romily suggests that she have a baby for Claire, using artificial insemination. Despite later misgivings, the deal is done and the book follows through Romily’s pregnancy. But things get difficult when Claire begins to interfere, and the true nature of Ben and Romily’s friendship starts to get in the way. The “Dear Thing” of the title refers to a series of letters Romily writes to her unborn child – she and Posie call the child “thing” – and those letters are the catalyst which turns everyone’s lives upside down.
This story is beautifully written, with its real strength being in the portrayal of the characters – Romily appeals at first meeting (or maybe that’s just me?) but both Ben and Claire develop into people that you ache over, feeling their pain. The absolute triumph of the book is young Posie – she leaps off the page as a very real child, but with some wonderful oddities around her behaviour, from her extensive adult vocabulary (Romily is a scientist, and she talks to her as an adult) to her plans to become an explorer, and her base camp in the bedroom where she eats her peanut butter sandwiches. Her developing relationship with her father is a joy, and when she hurts it makes you hurt too.
I loved this book with its central themes of the need to create a family, the power of love and friendship, and the importance of being honest about your feelings and motivation. It’s an easy read in some ways, difficult in others when the feelings surface, and infused with humour and poignancy. I loved it, and I was really wrong to put it to one side because of its subject matter because it has so much more to it than that… lesson learned.
My copy of this book came from Alison Barrow at Transworld, and was an advance reading copy, but that hasn’t influenced my review. It was published by Bantam Press in April 2013 in hardback and Kindle formats: the paperback is due for release in May 2014. For more information on the writer and her books, visit Julie Cohen’s excellent website.