Mothering Sunday, 1924. Jane Fairchild, like all other household staff, has the day off but having no mother to visit, she has the day to herself. The eventful day will help shape her future in unforeseen ways.
Mothering Sunday is a short novel but is packed full of beautiful, evocative writing. It takes skill to round out a character in few words and Graham Swift has that skill. Jane Fairchild is a complex character, she is a glimpse into what it is like to be both seen and invisible. Graham Swift explores the class divide of the early 20th Century, when the shift was moving towards fewer household help, when women’s liberation was a fledgling idea. Jane Fairchild is a perfect metaphor for the undercurrent of the time. Outside meek and bidding, perfect in her role as housemaid, unaware of her secret, the way she has bridged the divide. She has ideas and desires ahead of her time, ambitions and aspirations of doing more with her life than being in service.
An event in the novel, on Mothering Sunday, precipitates her eventual change to famous author. The narrative weaves from Jane in her twenties to a ninety year old reflecting on her life and all the intervening years.
The book is a commentary on how minor incidents and major shifts can both impact on our lives. It is, on first appearance, a short novel about a young orphan girl and a reflection on a day in her life. In reality it is much more. It is a social commentary, a coming of age tale and a love story, of falling in love with others and with yourself, of accepting who you are and of challenging boundaries. In short, a beautiful, thought-provoking read.