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October 28, 2009

Book Notes - Sophie Hannah ("The Wrong Mother")

In the Book Notes series, authors create and discuss a music playlist that relates in some way to their recently published book.

The Wrong Mother is one of the most suspenseful books of the year. Amidst a murder mystery, Sophie Hannah explores the often overwhelming demands of motherhood with her richly drawn characters and involving plot.

The New York Times wrote of the book:

"Hannah goes in for all those bizarre plot twists and outlandish behaviors that have come to define the psychological-suspense story, but she does it with style and wit. And while these Gothic chords bring a dissonant note to the realistic chapters written in the police-procedural format, they can’t muffle the voices of the women in this story who persist in speaking intimately and honestly about the pressures on them as supermoms."

In her own words, here is Sophie Hannah's Book Notes music playlist for her novel, The Wrong Mother:

Sally is watching the news with her husband when she hears a name she ought not to recognise: Mark Bretherick. Last year, a work trip Sally had planned was cancelled at the last minute. Desperate for a break from her busy life juggling work and a young family, Sally didn't tell her husband that the trip had fallen through. Instead, she booked a week off work and treated herself to a secret holiday. All she wanted was a bit of peace, some time to herself but it didnt work out that way. Because Sally met a man: Mark Bretherick.

Now, to Sally's shock, Bretherick is on the news. All the details are the same: where he lives, his job, his wife Geraldine and daughter Lucy. Except that the photograph on the TV screen is of a man Sally has never seen before. And Geraldine and Lucy Bretherick are both dead . . .

My novel is about mothers who buckle under the pressure of motherhood, and, more generally, about families that implode. Sounds cheerful, doesn't it? It's also a detective story and hopefully a gripping mystery - I should probably have said that first! - but I wrote it when my kids were little and very hard work, and I was finding life a real struggle. It was cathartic to write about mothers who found mothering a total nightmare! There are three mothers in the book - an apparently perfect selfless one, a monstrously selfish one, and a normal one who 'has her moments', like most of us. I wanted to examine the different ways of being a mother. I must admit, though, I found the monstrously selfish mother's bits the most fun to write. I also enjoyed writing about a married mother committing adultery in a hotel. When you have kids, people expect you to become sensible and virtuous overnight, but if you were previously neither, why would you suddenly become both? My heroine Sally gets a kick out of doing something no one would think she'd do in a million years.

I do occasionally imagine my ideal soundtracks for my books, so it was great to be asked to choose a playlist for The Wrong Mother. Here goes:

1) "Rosco" by Midlake, from their album The Trials of Van Occupanther. This is one of my favourite albums of all time, and Rosco, track no. 1, is the best song on it. In The Wrong Mother, there's a character called Cordy (Cordelia) O'Hara who is reliable, perceptive, and who the police really ought to take seriously. To establish her reliability, I put a copy of Van Occupanther in her flat, hoping my detective characters would believe her on account of her good taste!

2) "My Baby Needs a Shepherd" by Emmylou Harris. One of the themes in the novel is mothers' protectiveness (or otherwise) towards their daughters. This brilliant song is all about a mother trying and tragically failing to protect her child and it's perfect soundtrack material for a sinister thriller - it contains the lyric 'To the cradle comes the crow', which has always made me shiver.

3) "Never Known" by Duritti Column. I have no idea what this strange and atmospheric song is about, but I think it would be the perfect soundtrack for the part of the novel where the heroine has been drugged and is feeling detached from reality and a bit hazy. It's very hazy, weird music - quite claustrophic and threatening, I imagine, if you're listening to it in the house of a psychopath who's recently kidnapped you, as of course my heroine would be.

4) "Elsewhere" by Sarah McLaughlin. This song relates specifically to the adulterous behaviour of the heroine. It contains the lyric, 'Mother, can't you see I've got to live my life the way I feel is right for me? It might not be right for you, but it's right for me.' What else need an unfaithful wife say? we ask ourselves. Also, in the novel there is a mother whose own mother disapproves of her for being such a rubbish mother, so it's relevant on that score too.

5) "Funeral" by Peter Tosh. This is a fantastic song in which Tosh says he has no intention of going to somebody's funeral, even though he's expected to. 'Let the dead bury the dead/And who is to be fed, bed fed./I ain't got no time to waste on you./I'm a living man, I've got work to do.' In The Wrong Mother, it emerges at a certain point that one of the murder victims possibly wasn't all that nice a person, and possibly won't be missed all that much...

6) "Mon Ami Francois" by John Gould. No one will have heard of this. It was on an album released in the sixties called Four Degrees Over. It's a comic song in deliberately bad French, and a verse of it is included in The Wrong Mother as part of a subplot involving clues in foreign languages. So the song is extremely relevant to the plot.

7) "The Promise You Made" by Cock Robin - this was in the UK charts in the 1980s, about 1984/85 I think. One of my detective characters, towards the end of the novel, says to another, 'Remember the promise you made?' and another asks if she is quoting Cock Robin. There was no real need to put this song in the book, but it's one of my all-time faves, so I indulged myself and put it in!

8) "El Preso Numero Nueve". I'm not sure who this is by. It's an old traditional Spanish song about a man who murders his wife and her lover. Again, this is connected to linguistic clues, Spanish characters and adulterous themes in the novel. Can't say more without giving too much away!

9) "She Ain't Going Nowhere" by the great Guy Clark, one of the most talented musical geniuses ever. This song is all about a woman who just wants to get out and go anywhere, anything to escape her life. This is how Sally, my heroine, feels after several years of looking after a husband and two small children.

10) "I Was the One" by the Hoodoo Gurus - a British song, all about guilt for the ruination of relationships. Perfect! All my novels are jam-packed with ruined relationships.

11) "High Time" by The American Ruse, another British band, no longer together, sadly. "High Time" is a brilliant song of unrestrained bitterness and vindictiveness, and contains the superb lyric, 'Face up to it, don't wanna end your days full of lead/Blood blood red/Bang bang you're f**king dead'. Sometimes that sort of unrestrained viciousness is just what the doctor ordered!

12) "Goodbye Lucille" by Prefab Sprout, from their album Faron Young. I can't say why this is relevant because it would give away something about the ending of the novel, but it could almost have been written with my book in mind!

Sophie Hannah and The Wrong Mother links:

the author's website

Bookmarks review
BookPage review
Kansas City Star review
New York Times review
O, The Oprah Magazine review
Pop Goes Fiction review
Readaholic review

Houston Press profile of the author
Marie Claire interview with the author
The Page 69 Test for the book

also at Largehearted Boy:

other Book Notes submissions (authors create playlists for their book)
Note Books (musicians discuss literature)
guest book reviews
musician/author interviews
52 Books, 52 Weeks