I have to confess, it was the title that made me curious about this book, but I never would have expected to be reading a book that touched so many different emotional responses from me. This book made me angry and sad one minute and smiling and even laughing the next. I read it pretty slow, as I was in some ways afraid to get to the end. Here's why ---
As the story begins Anna, 38 in labor at a London hospital, expecting her first baby. Her husband Tobias arrives while she is already in labor (to myself I'm calling him a jerk already). Anna, is a planner who loves to control what happens in her life, even if that is not always possible. She and Tobias have already discussed moving to Provence once their baby is born, so that their child can be raised in a quaint, peaceful place. Anna is a chef and she is already hoping to open a restaurant in Provence as well. Tobias is more of a fly-by-the-seat of your pants kind of guy; he is a musician and film writer.
When Baby Freya, arrives into the world, it's by an emergency C-section after some heart-rate problems are detected. When she has a seizure right after birth, it is clear she has some issues. MRI's and testing reveal her brain has not developed normally, and has a condition called: Polymicrogyria. She will be severely limited for as long as she lives and her life expectancy is unknown. Her frequent seizures could end her life at anytime. Anna and Tobias are devastated and after learning more details about her daughter's condition, they even consider abandoning Freya and moving on with their lives. They fear that they will be unable to love and care for Freya, believing they could never handle all that responsibility required of someone who is raising a disable child.
Convinced to take their daughter home, even briefly, the couple move to an isolated town in France. To add more chaos to their already stressful lives, they decide to make a rodent-infested, rundown, crumbling, farmhouse home [ I'm picturing a French version of the place in Under the Tuscan Sun]. Anna's obsession with order and control at times serves to shift her focus from her disabled baby to trying to "mouse-proof" her kitchen.
The chapters in this story are the months of the year beginning with the month that Freya was born. There is a quirky cast of characters, each of whom in some way serves to help, or even sometimes distract Anna from the constant pressure and ever-present anxiety that the couple faces 24-7. Anna's annoying mother, was someone who made me especially angry when she came to visit - she is totally self-absorbed, yet, there were a few occasions that she surprised me in a pleasant way as well.
As you can imagine, this book has some gut wrenching moments. How hard it must be to allow yourself to love a very sick baby, never knowing whether it will be taken away from you tomorrow. I was surprised to read that this story, at least in part, was inspired by the personal experience of the author.The Mouse-Proof Kitchen is an incredibly touching story. It is one of those books that would make for a great book club discussion. It reminded me how our some of biggest challenges in life, are usually the things that made us a better, and stronger person in the end.
Very well done - Read it.