I have such mixed emotions about this novel, on the one hand I really resonated with some of the material but on the other hand I was left feeling utterly empty by the end. You know that feeling when you read a story and are somehow left bereft? Like you don’t know what to do or how to continue with life once you’ve turned the last page? That’s exactly how I felt once I finished reading The Good Children.
Leaving home is one thing. Surviving is another.
1940s Lahore, the Punjab. Two brothers and their two younger sisters are brought up to be ‘good children’, who do what they’re told. Beaten and browbeaten by their manipulative mother, to study, honour and obey. Sully, damaged and brilliant, Jakie, irreverent and passionate. Cynical Mae and soft-hearted Lana, outshone and too easily dismissed.
The boys escape their repressive home to study medicine abroad, abandoning their sisters to their mother and marriages. Sully falls in love with an unsuitable Indian girl in the States; Jakie with an unsuitable man in London. Their sisters in Pakistan refuse to remain trophy wives, and disgrace the family while they strike out to build their own lives.
As they raise their own families, and return to bury the dead, Sully and Jakie, Mae and Lana, face the consequences of their decisions, and learn that leaving home doesn’t mean it will ever leave them.
- Representation + Relatable – I tend to gravitate towards novels which explore the experience of people of colour and specifically South Asian characters as I always find a stronger connection with these stories than any other. I found some parts really resonated with me and felt true to what I’ve experienced – especially when it comes to Indian culture. There are some parts of SA culture that I and many others definitely find problematic for instance colourism and gender inequality to name a few – it was encouraging seeing another writer recognise these issues and explore them.
- Focus on family – As much as the story is about the experience of immigrants and children of the SA diaspora, it’s main focus is portraying the complexities of family. There’s no denying that the family in the novel are dysfunctional, largely due to the mothers overbearing and cruel nature. Think of every wicked step mother in fiction and you’ll get a picture of what this one is like.
- Not only does this mistreatment affect the siblings as children but follows them throughout adulthood, even down to when she is on her deathbed. I found it hard to believe how cruel she was at times, and I don’t think I would be quite as forgiving towards her had I been subjected to her ‘parenting’. However, despite this, the siblings still manage to retain strong relationships with each other and clearly band together when times are tough which was honestly heartwarming.
- Characters – I appreciated the range of characters within the novel. Each of the siblings have a distinct personality and a way in which they view the world and it all seems to stem from the way their mother – and to a lesser degree, their father treated them as children.
- The character I most related to was Suleman aka Sully, the ‘damaged and brilliant’ oldest sibling. As the eldest myself, I understand the pressures and also the feeling of responsibility over your siblings. I also found his later struggles with relationships and mental health SO relatable. He is somewhat adrift and feels disconnected for most of his life and I’ve felt this on and off too.
- Past + Present – I’ve read quite a few novels recently which jump around in time between past and present events. Once again, in this novel it allows more ground to be covered and shows how the siblings change and also stay the same. The way the novel has distinct sections, separated by time periods was helpful in knowing very clearly where we were in terms of historical events as well as social attitudes.
- Pacing – At times the novel felt a bit clunky and like it could have been more succinct. Often times I would find certain chapters dragged on for far too long than necessary while I felt others ended rather abruptly. For instance some of the chapters seemed to be focused on background characters or events which I felt didn’t need quite as much focus. I would have preferred if they related to the main plot more.
- Ending / Final thoughts – As I said above, I was left feeling so empty by the end of the story. I don’t know whether this is just because it came to an end and endings always leave me feeling this way or because of the nature of the conclusion itself. The novel ends with the mother dying, the children are all elderly too and while they all come to terms with their various traumas, it was just quite somber and muted -other than the fact that the siblings united once more.
Overall, The Good Children definitely got me thinking and moved me in equal measures. However there were just certain things which stopped me from enjoying it to the max, some of which I mentioned and some I just can’t seem to put my finger on. Either way, I would still recommend this story and am glad to have read it.
★★★ – 3 Star Rating
Until next time,