My Phantoms by Gwendoline Riley audiobook review – a portrait of mother-daughter resentment

Bridget is a fortysomething academic who lives in London with her psychoanalyst partner, John, and their elderly rescue cat, Puss. This is pretty much all we learn of her circumstances, since Bridget is determinedly self-sufficient and guards her domestic life with a ferocity that hints at past trauma. Outsiders are rarely allowed over the threshold of her home, especially if that outsider is her mother, Hen.

Read by Helen McAlpine, My Phantoms is a mordant portrait of a mother-daughter relationship in which emotions are suppressed and conversations are kept studiously light. Bridget does her utmost to keep her mother at arm’s length, communicating mostly via texts and emails, and meeting once a year for a tense lunch on Hen’s birthday. After her divorce from her second husband, Hen embarks on a “programme of renewal” with a full-to-bursting social calendar of walks, talks and art exhibitions that she clearly doesn’t enjoy. But as she becomes increasingly frail and isolated, she desires more attention and companionship from her daughter, and is hurt when it isn’t forthcoming.

McAlpine’s narration adeptly captures Hen’s growing neediness as well as Bridget’s alarm at her mother’s “horrible persistence”. Bridget is not without her flaws, though we come to understand her emotional withdrawal via flashbacks to her childhood in Merseyside where her domineering father tested her boundaries and, dealing with her own trauma, her mother disengaged from her children. There is much that remains unsaid between Hen and Bridget, though their tortured interactions, delivered in short, crisp sentences, tell a complex and compelling tale of familial resentment.

My Phantoms is available from Granta, 4hr 52min

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