Dear Thing approaches what could be a very difficult topic in a very entertaining manner. Surrogacy is perhaps not the easiest subject to write a novel about, but Julie Cohen has written a really well-told story that has lots to think about.
Ben and Romily have been best friends since university. Ben’s married to Claire. Romily is single mum to Posie. Ben and Claire would desperately love children, but cannot conceive despite years of wearying and expensive fertility treatment. Claire has had enough of invasive procedures and dashed hopes, but Ben is so blinded by his need to be a dad that he refuses to hear what Claire is telling him. He pours his heart out to Romily, and she suggests surrogacy with her as the surrogate. Romily would do anything to ease Ben’s pain – she’s been in love with him forever.
Ben jumps at this chance to be a father, but Claire is more reticent. She’s not sure about the idea or about Romily. Despite knowing each other for years they are still more acquaintances than friends. As it turns out, Claire is right to be cautious. Pregnancy does funny things to your hormones, and Romily’s feelings for Ben are hard to keep under wraps when the baby growing inside her is fathered by the man of her dreams.
I was absorbed by the situation the three adults put themselves in, and the effects on their relationships with each other and their families. Ben, Claire and Romily all annoyed me at various points during the story, mostly with their selfishness. Ben’s insistence on having a child is selfish when he shuts down to Claire’s desire to stop. She is asking for a chance to reassess their lives and find out how they can move forward as a couple, be a family that may not include children. He is absolutely one-tracked about it, to the point of ignoring or repressing all knowledge of Romily’s feelings for him. Claire too made me cross with her over-controlling behaviour at times, and her judgemental attitude towards Romily’s lifestyle and home. And Romily, so lacking in any self-preservation instinct that she jumps in to ‘save’ Ben without giving a second thought to how any of it will affect her daughter Posie. But, it did beautifully show that being a grown-up is difficult and emotions are very tricky things.
I never actually stopped liking or being interested in the characters, and I really wanted things to work out well for all of them. At one point I struggled to see how the unborn baby would get a happy ending though, caught as it was between so many competing desires. It got me thinking about the implications of their situation, and I have to admit I thought they were courting disaster. Very little consideration of the havoc they could cause to the child they wanted was given beforehand- all of them were doing it to satisfy their own needs and wants. They’d gone to a lot of trouble to create a life with very little forethought about the impact of their actions on that life. I personally think that surrogacy can (and does) work as an option for couples unable to have children by other means, but Dear Thing definitely made me think long and hard about the unintended consequences. If nothing else, I’ve decided that the surrogate should ideally not be someone in love with the donor father!
It is a thought-provoking novel, but it also has a beautifully light touch. The story moves along nicely, and is not at all mawkish. The addition of little letters written to ‘Thing’ are great. We get more insight into the feelings of Claire, and then Romily, which make them more understandable and human. I really enjoyed this novel, and can recommend it to even the utterly non-maternal like myself.
Dear Thing is published by Bantam Press on 11 April 2013 in Hardback. I was fortunate enough to receive a proof copy from the publisher for review.
If you enjoy this book I would also suggest taking a look at Sarah Rayner’s The Two Week Wait, which gives another slant on motherhood and fertility issues.