Dawn French’s compulsive new novel is hard to categorise. It’s extremely emotional, and French writes powerfully about mother love, the strongest bond of all. Full of warmth and empathy, it’s witty and humorous. And yet it’s the story of a heartbreaking crime – the abduction of a tiny baby from her hospital crib, by a grief-stricken mother who has just lost her own new-born in a devastating accident of birth. Don’t worry! That’s not a spoiler. The baby snatch happens at the beginning of the book. The rest of the story is about the two very different mothers, one bereft, the other full of love and guilt, and the beautiful child who grows up with the wrong mother.
BECAUSE OF YOU begins on an auspicious date: January 1st 2000, the magical millennium, which many thought would change the world. And it certainly transforms the lives of two very different women, Hope and Anna, both giving birth for the first time, soon after midnight, at the same hospital in rooms just yards apart. Both are having girls. Anna, middle class, unhappily married to an arrogant MP husband (French has fun with Julius, who’s a complete tosser) wants to call her baby Florence, while Hope, a young, free spirited hospital cleaner in love with her student partner, is joyfully expecting Minnie. But tragedy strikes. Minnie is stillborn.
In a fog of grief, Hope steals Florence from her crib, takes her home and brings her up as Minnie, a beautiful, happy girl, whom we first meet when she is 17 years old, when fate finally catches up with Hope.
This is a book of big emotional themes: motherhood, grief, loss, guilt and, above all, love. It’s sad, happy and also funny. Strong and tender, it’s a triumph.