HOW TO MAKE A BABY
Book Review by Jo Blick, Wellington
How to Make a Baby - Sadie Sumner
Monica is being followed by a phantom baby. Disturbing yes, but is that any reason to whack the cost of an egg doner and surrogate on the credit card and decamp to India? Probably not but interesting stories are not written about people staying home and alphabetising their spice racks.
Billed as a modern family satire, Sadie Sumner’s novel about “motherhood, marriage and making babies the modern way” casts an eye over our 21st century mores and finds them wanting.
Monica’s mother has just died, her marriage is in dire straits and her business is in trouble. She’s still aching for the baby she was forced to abort years before. Yes, she sounds stable! Perfect mother material.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, Kavitha’s upwardly-mobile lifestyle falls apart leaving her with very few choices but to offer herself up as a womb for rent. Boo for the Western capitalist exploiters making money out of others’ misery!
That’s a fairly flip summary but rest assured author Sadie Sumner’s tale, while proceeding at a fair old pace, is a nuanced and intelligent read.
Sumner’s female characters, particularly Monica and Kavitha, are rich and fully-realised and Sumner’s writing gives us plenty of insight into the ‘why’ of their actions without necessarily forcing us into a position of judgement. Well, you may not judge...I am not a nice person and spent much time rolling my eyes at Monica’s neediness.
Sumner’s wonderful descriptions of India make the setting as much of a character as the people. Kavitha and Monica’s worlds truly collide on the sub-continent and we get to experience the sheer chaos of India – the noise, the smells, the people, the buildings – through two very different sets of eyes. The novel really comes alive in these passages as if India is its beating heart.
This book may not be a true satire – it’s a little too kind-hearted for that. However it does make you think about how easy it is for those of us in the West to have everything our heart desires, whether we deserve it or not. The sad truth is it’s often women in less-developed countries who have to compromise their health and wellbeing to fulfill those needs – whether it be a designer handbag produced in a sweatshop or a living, breathing human, purchased over the internet and incubated by women who have lost in life’s lottery.
An entertaining and, at times,thought-provoking read, whose real heroine, the shiny-spined Kavitha demonstrates a courage and determination that puts Monica, her self-indulgent Western counterpart to shame. Kavitha for the win!
Midi is New Zealand's only stockist of How to Make a Baby!