Zoje Stage’s psychological thriller Mothered follows a mother and daughter’s complicated relationship and descent into madness during an isolating pandemic.
Mothered explores the troubled relationship between a mother and daughter after they move in together at the height of a pandemic. Grace, a hairdresser, is forced to invite her estranged mother, Jackie, into her home when job insecurity and health problems affect them.
In an author’s note, Zoje Stage shares that she didn’t intend for the novel to be a pandemic story. However, I found it captured the volatility, claustrophobia, and uncertainty of that time in a way a reader could genuinely relate to.
Stage is an expert storyteller, with a knack for moments of fantasy mixed with horror.
As Grace unravels, vivid nightmares make it difficult for her to separate dreams from reality. I found her unnerving dreams to be one of the most interesting elements of the story.
This is actually a very real phenomenon: At the beginning of the pandemic, the stressors and fears of daily life made their way into our sleep, leading to strange, vivid dreams. Sleep researchers even found that the emotional distress of the pandemic was linked to a rise in nightmares. (Source)
I thought the dream sequences added a sense of unreality to the story that mirrored the characters’ descent into troubled pandemic-related isolation. They propelled Grace’s revelations about her relationship with her long-dead twin sister and served as a great vehicle for exploring the past while staying in the present.
I absolutely loved Stage’s debut Baby Teeth as an unsettling, creepy family-based thriller, and Mothered follows in a similar vein. It’s a tense page-turner that kept me guessing at every turn with very realistic characters and dialogue.