Lisa Jewell gives a sparkling insight into a life-changing decision
The Making of Us Lisa Jewell Random House, �12.99
One of the country’s bestselling authors of popular fiction, this veteran of the ‘chick-lit’ era seems to be maturing into Joanna Trollope – and I mean that as a compliment.
The Queen of the aga saga is famed for her incisive psychological narratives charting the seismic impact of everyday dramas like divorce, bereavement, affairs and adoption on mostly middle class folk.
Here Jewell burrows into the emotionally-fraught issue of donor insemination, in the light of recent developments that the children born of sperm and egg donation have the right to know the identity of their biological parents.
While I’m not convinced Jewell is as nifty as Trollope at turning a compelling character, or channelling their emotional crises into gripping confrontations, she carries us along in absorbing fashion, plaiting together the lives of half a dozen disparate but crucially connected people from a wider social spectrum than Trollope habitually musters.
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Daniel Blanchard is a French doctor, whose reasons for donating sperm remain rather oblique.
At one point we’re told he needed the money. It’s also possible atonement for a case of medical malpractice that, a trifle unconvincingly, led him to leave France and cut off all contact with his family.
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Three decades on, he’s dying of cancer, reflecting on a childless life that has shunned intimate relationships. He urges girlfriend Maggie to contact the four children who resulted from his donation so he can meet them before he expires.
Lydia’s the multi-millionaire with a tragic past and isolated present, who returns to her native Wales to face the childhood trauma of her mother’s early death.
Dean is an under confident young father, thrust into single parenthood when his partner dies in childbirth, who must convince himself he’s worthy to raise his own daughter.
And Robyn is the irritatingly perfect medical student whose world is rocked by her first love and the realisation she may not be as special as she thinks.
All three sign up to the donor registry for differing reasons and are forced to grapple with what it means to be a parent, sibling, and child, and how far biology matters over nurture.
Jewell misses a trick in under-exploring the motivations of the men and women who chose to have children via sperm donation (Trollope would’ve). One of the most vibrantly written chapters introduces us to Lydia’s lively Welsh mum Glenys, who secretly inseminates herself rather than confront her macho husband with his infertility. But she’s written out by page 10. Dean’s mother was a single 40-year-old who chose to go it alone, and Robyn’s a bereaved mother of two dead daughters who wanted to avoid the deadly genetic disease carried in her husband’s DNA. But we hear little of either.
The West Hampstead author cannot disguise the fact that some characters, (Robyn and the menopausal Maggie) are under drawn and a shade unsympathetic. And she deploys at least one plot twist that stretches credulity.
But this is an entertaining read that offers thoughtful insight into an issue that our increasing reliance on fertility medicine will surely render more common.