Book Review: Motherhood by Sheila Heti

Very early on, I wondered if I would finish this book. It aggravated me almost immediately but I pushed on, wondering what I was missing. In the end, I skim read through to the end since I was curious to find out what the narrator’s final decision would be. The question that she chases throughout this book (Is it a novel? How much is fiction and much is truth?) is whether or not she should have a child. Our narrator is a writer in her late 30s, aware that time is running low if she truly wants to embark on motherhood. But does she? What if she regrets not becoming a mother? What if she regrets becoming a mother?

Much of the book is formatted in a series of questions posed to the throwing of coins (connected to the I Ching as the introduction explains). This yes and no format goes on way too long and felt stunted to me. I would much rather have simply heard this woman’s own thoughts without an artificial conversation being created.

However, this woman as a person frustrated me deeply. She seemed strangely helpless for someone who values her independence so much. In an early scene she is stopped by a psychic on the street and gives a large amount of credence (and money) to this woman. She takes her dreams far too seriously. (And we hear about a lot of them. Someone needs to tell Heti that there is not much that is less interesting than other people’s dreams and what they think they mean.) She seems ready to buy into anything that might tell her what to do with her life.

She tells us that her current relationship, with a man named Miles, is healthy, is as good as a relationship can be and her friends tell her this too. Yet what we see of them together seems neither happy nor sustainable. At one point Miles tells her he thinks all women are deceitful. They don’t seem to particularly enjoy one another’s company and Miles doesn’t really want a child. (He already has a daughter from a previous relationship.)

I am still trying to parse the other things that annoyed me about this book. Am I annoyed because of my own personal decisions? I am a mother and I take great joy in that role. It’s one I chose and one I’m thankful for. I don’t feel that motherhood limits who I am as a person. I don’t believe that art and motherhood are exclusive – one of the narrator’s great fears.

A repeating theme in the book is that the mothers around the narrator want her to be a mother. She portrays motherhood almost as a cult, something other women are trapped in and so wish to ensnare their friends. (There is at least one comparison to the myth of the sirens.) I have to admit I take some offence at that. I am always delighted when women around me have children that they have chosen to have. I want women (and men) to have children who want to have children. I have no desire to see every woman as a mother and I don’t think it’s a role for absolutely everybody. I have told friends (who have asked) how I feel about motherhood and attempted to be as honest as possible. Whether or not another woman has children has literally no effect on my life. It is disappointing in a book that could be a fascinating exploration on how women make the choice for or against motherhood to have a narrator with such a narrow view of both mothers and women.



*Spoilers somewhat ahead* About three-quarters of the way through the narrator goes on anti-depressants and her whole world view changes. She has a great deal more clarity on her life and what she wants. Looking back on the first part of the book while knowing that the narrator was deeply depressed did change my perspective on her. I think the book would actually be far more interesting if this had been shown or acknowledged from the beginning. Instead, there didn’t seem to be enough time to fully delve into this non-depressed side of the narrator. I think her depression and how it affected her life and her decisions, particularly about motherhood, was actually at the heart of the story but it took too long to get there.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: Motherhood by Sheila Heti”

  1. As a deliberate non-mother, I always feel that if a woman is questioning so deeply whether she should be a mother or not, the answer should probably be “not”. Every child deserves to be wanted for its own sake, and not evaluated as some kind of possible hindrance to its parent’s career or creativity. We are lucky to live in an age when we can make the choice…

    1. I completely agree. Motherhood (and fatherhood) is such a huge commitment that if you’re questioning it this much, that’s probably your answer. I think there can be a lot of social pressure but I’m hopeful that we are seeing a shift where it’s easier/more acceptable for women to make the choice that’s best for them.

    2. AGREED. What if the person has the child and then realizes their life HAS changed (because it will) and then resents this tiny human for “ruining” their life? I see and hear crap like that all the time. I’ve had authors come to my MFA program and talk about how their baby destroyed their writing career.

  2. Oh I’ve got this book on my shelf, and I’m dying to read it (once Wordfest is done!). it may be my november book club choice, but I’ve also heard it’s very ‘divisive’, which makes for great discussion! As a mother, I think I’ve actually scared away some people from becoming mothers because I’m so brutally honest about the whole thing haha

    1. You should read it – I’m curious to know what you think of it. I think honesty about motherhood is a good thing – it’s not easy! This narrator needed a friend like you! (Have fun at Wordfest!)

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