A Perfect Explanation by Eleanor Anstruther


Today I am delighted to be sharing my thoughts on A Perfect Explanation, the debut novel by Eleanor Anstruther. The premise of this novel was one that intrigued me, as it provides a fictionalised account of Anstruther’s own grandmother, Enid Campbell, who sold her son to her sister for the sum of £500.

The events in this story begin in 1964, when Enid is living in a care home awaiting a visit from her daughter with whom she has a difficult relationship, and as the story progresses we see the events that build up to this point. The narrative switches between two timelines, one in 1964 and another covering a decade between the two world wars, as a picture of Enid’s life is pieced together. And we learn that life for Enid has been difficult, from family tragedies to an unsatisfactory marriage, to her struggles with motherhood and her need to provide an heir to inherit the family’s fortune. The story explores the challenges faced by this aristocratic family, and the impact of their emphasis on tradition and heritage on her life and that of her children. Enid is the mother to a son and a daughter, but when her son, born with a condition that went untreated, has an accident that has life-limiting consequences rendering him ‘unfit’ to secure the fortune she decides she must produce another son. However, having already struggled with motherhood and with the demands of caring for her disabled son, the escalating situation takes its toll on Enid, proving to be the catalyst in a remarkable series of events.

I was quickly drawn into this historical tale and the story behind Eleanor Anstruther’s ancestors. It was fascinating to think of Anstruther hearing these stories from her father, and going on to delve deeper into their history, piecing together this account from family archives and documents. The tale of Enid Campbell is a tragic one, as it deals with the impact that marriage and motherhood had on her, and the sense of duty she may have felt as a woman to produce a suitable heir in order to protect the family inheritance and status, despite this being detrimental to her own health and mental wellbeing. Through her story we explore themes of family and parental bonds, along with ownership and abandonment. The characters are all richly drawn and complex, as the reader gets a sense of the challenges faced by the family, the fraught relationships and emotions between them, and the reasons for their actions as a family is pulled apart.

I was gripped by A Perfect Explanation, and found it to be a compelling and fascinating debut which explores the extraordinary story behind Enid Campbell, and how a woman coming from a seemingly privileged world is impacted so heavily by the pressures and traditions that surround her.

A Perfect Explanation was published on 15th March 2019 by Salt Publishing with thanks to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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