Soldier Sailor by Claire Kilroy – Book review

What a visceral read! Soldier Sailor by Irish author, Claire Kilroy is written as a mother’s letter to her son. Her account of the life-changing mad blur that is early motherhood. Although lead character, Soldier’s situation wasn’t 100% the same as mine, Soldier Sailor is by far the most accurate representation I’ve read on the churning feelings you go through when you become a mother and suddenly find that your life is dictated by a small human.

Opening sentence: Well, Sailor.

A new mother

Set in Ireland, Soldier is mother to Sailor. I assume her name is a reference to the trenches and front line of motherhood, as such but it could also be a note on gender roles. Soldier Sailor as a title feels very masculine for a book that centres on motherhood, it throws your expectation. Which perfectly reflects the themes and tone in the story.

Loving you was the easy part. Loving you was the only easy part.

The book opens on a high drama moment – Soldier leaving her son in the rocky wilds of a cliff walk to do what? Her mind isn’t her own, her thoughts are muddled. Motherhood is unique for everyone. By starting on a moment like this, you, the reader, might think you would never do something so awful to your baby, but motherhood pushes you. What is never in doubt is Soldier’s love for her son. What is in doubt is the actions she might take. This is what makes Soldier Sailor such an adrenaline inducing read.

‘I’m not incompetent,’ I told him. ‘I’m exhausted. There’s a difference.’

Sailor is a handful in the same way that any baby or toddler is. Their existence and demands are endless. Soldier’s husband is busy at work, distinctly absent in caring for their child, so she feels isolated and alone in this new, intense way of life.

Words that speak the truth

Claire Kilroy’s writing style is beautiful, very lyrical. It blends tenderness with pain so perfectly. Your heart aches while reading this. Particularly the ending, which feels like a poem and left me wanting to immediately re-read the entire book.

Claire Kilroy has ways of phrasing things that just made lightbulbs ping on for me, such accurate descriptions, like this:

A new mother is not peaceful but in a jittery state of high alert. We declare her serene so we can leave her to it. So we can behold the glittering surface, remark on its beauty, and walk away.

Since becoming a mother myself, I’ve read quite a few fiction books with motherhood as a central theme. It’s such a fascinating subject – especially when told from the POVs that scratch the surface and explore the tumulus time it really is.

I’ve collated some of my favourites on my book lists page if you want a few more recommendations. I’ll be adding Soldier Sailor to that list – it’s one of the best books I’ve read for capturing those wild motherhood feelings.

  • Thank you to Netgalley for the book;
  • Get your copy of Soldier Sailor here;
  • Published by Faber & Faber 11th May 2023;
  • 256 pages;
  • My rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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