To be honest, The Mothers is one of those novels you find it hard to criticise because they are just all-right, nice reads, nothing special. Though Bennett had the idea to elevate The Mothers over the average she does not really succeed in executing it.
In The Mothers we are introduced to three adolescents: all with their own problems. A mother has committed suicide leaving father and daughter incapable of helping each other; a mother choses the stepfather who sexually abuses her daughter; a young aspiring football player gets injured and has to re-plan his life whilst his father’s congregation is watching.
Nadia, Aubrey and Luke become friends and lovers, though not at the same time. They help each other through difficult times, they create new difficulties. Some of those difficulties will stand between them when they have long grown up.
The problem I have with our three adolescents is that they are too bland, too cliché. They are what they are meant to represent, they have insufficient depth of character to convince. They remain flat characters, just as all the people surrounding them. Bennett fails to add that extra layer to her adolescents that could have elevated the entire novel.
In this same way she uses a smart rhetorical device which does not come to its full potential: the chorus of old. In The Mothers the mothers actually are a group of elderly churchgoing women who comment on the lives of our three protagonists. They judge, they tease the readers with things to come, sometimes they look back on their own lives – with regret, with sadness. Bennett does not take her mothers far enough however. They act their part, they could have been hilarious, vicious, tender, or judgemental.
Though The Mothers is a nice read, one of those novels you enjoy whilst reading, the effect does not last. The novel lacks the level of depth that could have made it special, could have made it stand out. Bennett did not fully use her subject matter, a pity.