Ruth Furnival has built the life she always dreamed of: a stellar career in television, a lovely home, a lawyer husband and two grown-up daughters. But at 54, with an empty nest and the menopause behind her, she feels restless and dissatisfied.
After multiple rounds of failed IVF, her elder daughter Lauren is told that the only way she and her husband can have a child of their own is through surrogacy. So when Ruth discovers that, with the right dose of hormones, she could carry their baby, they agree out of desperation.
At first Ruth is buoyed by a new sense of purpose, but as her pregnancy progresses, long-buried events from the past resurface. Meanwhile Lauren can’t contain her corrosive envy. Isolated and alone, Ruth starts to unravel and what began as an act of altruism turns into one of atonement – for which she’s willing to risk everything.
Thank you to Hayley Camis for offering me a finished copy of Surrogate, naturally I jumped at the chance and it is my pleasure to write this independent review.
My initial thoughts as I commenced reading this book were a little unsure, it started slow and didn’t engage me, not one to ‘DNF’ (Did Not Finish) a book, I perservered and oh my! Am I glad I did. What followed was an intense character study through the lens of surragacy, a tricky subject reflected from all perspectives as Ruth embarks on this journey for her daughter Lauren.
Already a prickly relationship, Lauren struck me as somewhat critical to the flawed but charasmatic Ruth, recalling the absences during childhood as ambitious Ruth pursued a successful career in television, omitting the positives which Alex, the younger daughter was more readily able to recall.
For Ruth, grieving her youth and everything that brings – status, beauty and fertility she swiftly and unilaterally decides surrogacy, for her daughter is the correct and indeed only course of action. She views this as a gift, from her, the gift of a baby and parenthood to her daughter and son in law, for them it is the gift of her body as they list their expectations for the next 9 months, something that I experienced as increasingly oppressive and stifling as the story progressed.
This would be a brilliant bookclub read, I imagine readers would identify with either Lauren or Ruth and this would influence their reading experiences and sympathies. For me I really felt for Ruth as she was increasingly treated as a ‘vestibule’ and dehumanised, by her daughter and son in law; blind to anything except their desperation to be parents. Her solid relationship with her husband struggled to withstand the process and their history was examined, exposing past secrets and hurts.
The author skillfully explored the legal parameters of surrogacy and the process of the biological parents becoming legal parents. The emotional impact of all of this was palpable, the book was from Ruth’s perspective but the desperation, fear and anxiety of Lauren and Dan was tangible.
This is a superb character driven novel that was nothing short of brilliant, as with all relationships it took a little while to get to know everyone but once in, the journey was fantastic. Deep and emotive, at times painful this was a family drama that had me totally invested. The complexities of surragacy were sensitvely and I think fairly explored, the mother daughter relationship particularly interested me and this was well written, with the author authentically conveying the irritation her mother provoked in Lauren and the legacy of mother daughter relationships.
This book is out now and is one I am wholly recommending, specifically for those who like emotive, character driven stories that tackle challenging themes in a sensitve, fair and genuine manner.
About the Author
Susan Spindler is an award-winning journalist and documentary filmmaker. She worked for the BBC on flagship series such as Horizon, Tomorrow’s World and Q.E.D. and later held senior roles in Science, Editorial Policy and Drama. Surrogate is her first novel.