Posted by: Lisa Hill | December 7, 2014

Mothers’ Boys (1994), by Margaret Forster, narrated by Susan Jameson

Mothers' Boys I’ve been an admirer of Margaret Forster for a long time, but it’s been a while since I read one of her books. I’ve read Have the Men Had Enough? (1989); The Battle for Christobel (1991); her biography of Daphne du Maurier (1993); The Memory Box (1999); Lady’s Maid (2003); and of course Georgy Girl (1965), but I read all of these long before I started this blog. So when I saw Mothers’ Boys as an audio book at the library, it seemed like an ideal choice for the daily commute.

The novel was, in parts, rather confronting, but it was riveting. Like many of Forster’s novels it’s framed around the theme of family breakdown and loss, and the unexpected strength that women discover in themselves when life forces them into difficult situations.  And the situation in which these mother’s find themselves, though regrettably commonplace enough, is difficult indeed.

Earlier this year I read an impressive debut novel called The First Week by Margaret Merrilees, which was the story of a woman whose quiet life was shattered by her adult son who commits an incomprehensible crime.  (See my review).  In Mothers’ Boys, Forster explores a similar theme from the point-of-view of both the mothers – Sheila Armstrong, whose grandson Joe was the one involved in the assault, and Harriet Kennedy, whose fifteen-year-old son Joe was his victim.   The assault is particularly squalid, and Joe (who’s now in prison) won’t say a word to defend himself, while Joe – always a difficult child – is morose and rude and very hard to live with.

The back story of both families is gradually revealed, but it focusses mainly on the mothers and sons, not the husbands or other children.  Sheila Kennedy brought Joe up after his parents were killed in a car crash in Africa: she who had never been out of the country took off alone to bring him back to England.  Alone, because her husband was too afraid to travel.  She was a devoted mother to the motherless boy, and he grew to be a fine young man – until the fateful night when he took drugs and was found with a knife in his hand. This plunges Sheila into a world of courts and prisons and shame and guilty fears that she was not a good enough mother to him.

Harriet, on the other hand, is so convinced of her own importance to her son’s recovery that she smothers him in protectiveness to the point of obsession.  Where Sheila’s husband has a live-and-let-live attitude to life and it’s her father who refuses to have anything more to do with Joe, Harriet’s husband resents her eternal preoccupation with Joe and is angered by the way she lets him treat her like a doormat.

How these two women come to meet, and how the belated arrest of another man involved in the assault changes the dynamics makes for an absorbing story.  The narration by Susan Jameson is excellent.

Author: Margaret Forster
Title: Mothers’ Boys
Narrated by Susan Jameson
Publisher: Chivers Audiobooks, 2009, first published 1994
ISBN: 9781408402986
Source: Kingston Library


Hard to find.  Try your library.


  1. I love her work too, especially Ladies Maid. She has a new book out which also sounds good.


    • I’ll look out for that: I think I’ve got some of her older ones somewhere on the TBR too. When I’ve finished work and Xmas is out of the way, I’m going to do the annual tidy-up of the TBR, who knows what treasures I will find?!


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