The book is a story of Nell who throughout her life had to fight for herself. She gets married to escape her parents tight control. She tries to find her happiness by being a good wife and mother, but it doesn’t seem to work for her. Her husband is very possessive and controlling and abuses her both physically and psychologically. This finally pushes Nell to leave him, which in turn triggers a bitter fight for the children custody. Finally she wins and things seem to improve. Nell with her sons builds her own personal small stability.
She decides to send her sons to a boarding school, this allows her to discover freedom she never knew before. She works at a publishing house, gets drawn into bohemian world with parties, sex and occasional drugs. Nell makes use of this freedom, but at the same time I had the impression that she constantly craves something more, a bond and intimacy. Her relationship with her sons deteriorates, they get more and more distant and when she realizes that it is already too late. When tragedy strikes she struggles to reconnect, but the grief is overwhelming and isolating for everyone.
I sometimes struggled to understand the decisions Nell made, but in general her story is universal, a woman wanting to make her own decisions while being under pressure from all sides to behave ‘appropriately’. Sometimes she gives in to this pressure, other times she violently fights back, all the time trying to find balance between being herself, being a mother and being loved. I did not feel Nell was special in any way and maybe that was the intention, to make her easier to connect with, but for me it made me less engaged. It was not a bad book, but it didn’t move me in a way I would expect. Maybe I have to fight more of my own battles and make more mistakes to be able to sympathize with Nell more.