Book of the Week

The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal. Photo: PA Photo/Transworld Publishers
The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal. Photo: PA Photo/Transworld Publishers

The House Of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal

Actress and writer Meera Syal has set the literary bar high for herself. Her first novel Anita And Me is now a national curriculum set text, her second, Life Isn’t All Ha Ha Hee Hee, was made into a BBC drama.

Her third novel addresses the topical themes of late parenthood, which Syal has herself experienced, and surrogacy, which she has not.

It centres on Shyama, aged 44 (the same age Syal was when she had her son), a British Indian woman who yearns for a child with her partner Toby, who is 10 years her junior.

They’ve tried IVF but her eggs are shot, so they pursue the surrogacy route, which takes them to India and its unregulated clinics full of surrogates who see the lucrative procedure as their passport out of poverty.

Mala, a young woman living in New Delhi, becomes the surrogate, but when the couple discover that she has an abusive husband they decide to bring her back to the UK for the duration of her pregnancy, which causes life-changing consequences for all three of them.

Meanwhile, Shyama’s 19-year-old daughter Tara from her previous marriage shows total disdain for what her mother is doing but has her own trauma to deal with when she is raped by a fellow student but doesn’t report it.

Beautifully written, Syal’s detail of the cultural divides between Indian generations, the quirks, customs, traditions and attitudes as well as the lifestyle in both India and in Britain, can only come from one who has been immersed in both cultures.

She’s shown it humorously in shows like Goodness Gracious Me, but paints a much more serious picture in this novel, which also explores the sexual abuse of women, with references to the Delhi bus rape in 2012.

Raising questions about surrogacy from both sides, Syal remains unbiased, weaving the moral and emotional arguments seamlessly into the storyline and looks at the prejudices faced by women who want children in later life.