On Monday 20th September, Books and Bakes Book Club met at The Institute, Grays Road, Grangefield to discuss The Memory Keepers Daughter by Kim Edwards. What follows contains spoilers of the story.
First opinions of the book were very mixed, with the majority of those attending the discussion group finding The Memory Keepers Daughter a very difficult read, one that they would have happily not continued with had it not been for the Book Club. Group members felt a range of emotions such as sadness, anger and feeling disturbed.
One member pointed out that her copy of the book included information about the author being told the premise of the story when she joined a Presbyterian Church and adapted the real life story about two brothers into this story about a brother and a sister.
Different members found they could relate to the book through their own experiences of Downs Syndrome, disabled family members, work experiences and wider family experiences and because of this, the choices made and the language used was very challenging but the group acknowledged it was the language of the period the books was set in. The language of the period is now considered to be very discriminatory, particularly here in England. Some of the language remains unchanged in America, where the book is set. Also, there was the acknowledgement of the awkwardness and discomfort experienced by many people when they first experience communicating with someone with a disability or impairment.
The fact that the doctor recognised the visual signs of Downs Syndrome in a new born baby was also acknowledged and found to be challenging as the group felt that perhaps some of the visual characteristics of Downs Syndrome might not be obvious and recognisable until a baby is a few weeks old.
The group seemed to think that the decision to send Phoebe to the institution was made with the best of intentions in what seemed to be a very stressful situation as the Doctor had had a sister with Downs Syndrome who died very young and he idolised his wife and wanted to save her from the trauma and grief he felt would be in her not-too-distant future. However, his wife spent her life angry regardless – to her knowledge she lost her child and was not given a chance to grieve, to see her child before burial, to have a proper funeral. A decision that really did ruin the lives of David, Nora and Paul. How different things are now for families of babies born blue!
The title and the blurb was felt to be very deceptive as they implied the story would be from the perspective of Phoebe yet she actually really only had a ‘bit part’ in the book although the story did revolve around the Doctor’s decision to give her up we really felt we wanted to know a lot more about life from Phoebe’s perspective and that was very much missing.
Caroline, the nurse who decided to care for Phoebe was praised for her determination to fight to ensure that Phoebe could have as much of a normal life as possible and how she kept in regular contact with David so that he could be kept informed of his daughter’s progress through life.
It was felt that Paul suffered from the loss of his sister and the impact of the decision on his parents. David his father, was felt to be very controlling while one group member acknowledged the difficulty of supporting an artistically talented child when the likelihood of a successful career in the arts is very slim.
When asked what people learned from the book, the group commented on regrets and how spur of the moment decisions have a far reaching impact even if made with the best intentions and based on personal experiences.
Members picked up on what felt to be a hastily written death of David who, throughout the book, was the main protagonist yet such an enormous event took place in just 2 lines of text and that was the whole thing dealt with. It was felt that it was a disservice to David as he had been so integral to the story until that point. Although the moment was quite poignant in that it gave Caroline a reason to contact Nora and make her aware of Phoebe’s existence it really was a non-event in the book.
Picking up on the ending of the book, the group felt that Phoebe should get to marry her boyfriend because she has a right to a normal life. Paul would get to spend more time with Phoebe and perhaps they could record some music together with Paul playing the music and Phoebe singing along. Nora would likely remain unhappy in her marriage and continue to travel.
When asked who people thought would play the characters in a movie of the book it was pointed out that the book was made into a movie in 2008 so we didn’t try to re-cast the movie.
Our next session is on Monday 4th October at 2:30pm and is an author talk being delivered by former Teesside teacher and published author of the “Quit While You’e a-Head” series, Bryan Cross.
This session was made possible thanks to the National Lottery Local Connections Fund.