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The House of Hidden Mothers by Meera Syal

(125 Posts)
whenim64 Fri 22-May-15 10:03:39

Thanks GNHQ. My copy has just arrived and it looks like a good, meaty book.

Gagagran Mon 15-Jun-15 15:32:02

I loved this book and thought both the characters and the dialogue would translate very easily to a screen version.

I would have liked a list of Hindi words at the end so I could be sure what they mean and wonder if Meera had considered doing this?

Slpotts53 Tue 16-Jun-15 08:27:42

I absolutely loved this book. It was beautifully written and gave a really good insight into the lives of the characters as inhabitants of two diverse countries. The women were strong yet had their vulnerabilities and their flaws. It raises our awareness of infertility, surrogacy and the 'hidden'rape of women. It certainly made me think and yet was very entertaining at the same time.
Not having read any of Meera's novels before, I now want to seek out her previous two. What a talented lady both on screen and in print. A huge thank you for producing a book that I really didn't want to finish.
I don't want to spoil it for other readers but although I foresaw the climax it still made me cry!
I think this book would make an awesome film and could definitely see Meera assuming the role of Shyama.
The only addition I would have liked to have seen included would have been a glossary of Hindi words.

NannyGoat12345 Tue 16-Jun-15 15:58:21

Thank you Gransnet for my copy of this book, I have just finished reading it whilst on holiday in France, a rather rainy day today, so an ideal day to curl up with a good book.

I liked this book a lot, although I think I had guessed what the outcome was going to be. I would just like to ask Meera if she had planned any other endings to the story and if so, did she 'run them by' any of her family for their opinions?

Other than that, I liked the descriptions of India, although as another Gransnetter has said, a list of Hindi words would have been very useful, handy Hindi so to speak grin

nonnanna Fri 19-Jun-15 07:23:22

Gagagran and others - What a great idea, a translation list would be ideal. I agree that the whole book would make a brilliant film. I have read Meera Syal's other books and find that she writes so vividly that you can see every character and situation as if it's already a film. What do you have planned next, Meera?

Elsie10 Fri 19-Jun-15 10:22:44

I loved this book and now want to read other books by Meera as I like her style of writing. Yes - it would make a great film.........
I shall now pass it on to my mother to read, then my daughter in law - so the copy will be well used!

obag Fri 19-Jun-15 13:41:14

Thanks for the book, it arrived just as I was going on holiday so I took it with me. Not sure it was really a holiday read kind of book, but I still enjoyed it.
I found it a little slow to start, it follows the lives of two indian women, there is a lot going on and some parts don't make easy reading, with many side plots and political issues it can be a little drawn out.
Over all I enjoyed the book.

winifred01 Fri 19-Jun-15 20:32:16

Just finished reading Meera's book, Avery good read. Many characters from different cultural backgrounds. I intend to pass it on to my granddaughter, who unlike me, has been to India. It will be interesting to discuss it with her. Many thanks Gransnet.

merlotgran Sat 20-Jun-15 20:43:28

I really enjoyed The House of Hidden Mothers especially the insight into Indian culture and political issues. There's a lot going on in the book and I think I will read it again so I can pay more attention to Shyama's parents' struggle to repossess their retirement property in Delhi. I found I was so absorbed in the surrogacy plot I was tempted to skim over that part of the story although it played a necessary part in the conclusion.

I liked the power shift between the two women and Tara's 'coming of age'. The ending didn't surprise me although it did seem a bit too neat and tidy.

I'd like to ask Meera, Do you see your novel playing a part in raising awareness of couples seeking surrogate mothers abroad and are India's surrogacy laws particulary lax compared with other countries which could lead to it being regarded as just another outsourced industry?

philatel Mon 22-Jun-15 13:04:43

Thank you for sending me this book to read. I struggled at first to get into it - don't know why - I love books which are set overseas and to learn about the different cultures, etc. But, when I got half way through, it became easier to read. Heart wrenching story about a couple wanting a baby - I won't spoil it for anyone - just to mention that there is a twist at the end. I think it would make a good TV or cinema film.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 24-Jun-15 10:30:33

'Late' motherhood seems to have become my specialist subject: I have written a great deal, done many media interviews etc. I find people can be very snipey and either dismiss women who have babies in their late 30s and 40s as being 'selfish' or accuse them of having done so simply so they can further their careers. My research shows that this is absolutely not the case and actually it is mainly down to circumstance - so not a lot you can do about that (oh I can talk about this for hours and hours!) As one who had a baby at the same age as me I would love to know about your experience.

gillybob Wed 24-Jun-15 10:50:02

There is a lady I often walk into school with when I pick my grandchildren up. She has 2 boys aged 9 and 6. I always assumed that (like me) she was a grandma picking her grandchildren up from school. A few weeks ago walking in through the gates I mentioned that she appeared to do a few more childcare shifts than I did and I do quite a few! "Oh" she said "I'm almost permanent, they're my children".

I felt awfully embarrassed but she explained that it was a common mistake but she was 44 when she had her first son and 47 when she had her second. She went on to say that she met, fell in love with and married her husband, within only a few months and they both desperately wanted children.

I will keep my big mouth shut in future. smile

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 24-Jun-15 11:11:56

I live in fear of that moment gillybob! Even though I was quite young in comparison. Well, ish grin

gillybob Wed 24-Jun-15 11:44:10

For the lady I am talking about it was most definitely a case of "circumstamces" Cari rather than trying to further her career. She told me she always wanted children but didn't meet "the one" until she was well into her 40's. Well done her, that's what I say. Mind you she tends to gravitate towards us "grandmas" at the school gates rather than the mums, some of whom are probably less than half her age.

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 24-Jun-15 12:24:59

Circumstances for me definitely. But I am lucky in the at least half the mums in DD's class are 40 plus (now - not when they gave birth) so there's not such a huge gap

LaraGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 24-Jun-15 13:03:27

And Meera is here! A warm welcome to Gransnet. Fire away with your questions...

MeeraSyal Wed 24-Jun-15 13:08:39


I'm on the last chapter and it has been compelling reading. The characters are so recognisable and throughout I've been thinking this would make a great film (which I imagine Meera Syal had in mind, too!)

Firstly, thank you so much - to you and everyone who took the time to read it, and for your fantastic feedback. You and a lot of other people have said that this would make a great film, and I'm delighted to let you all know that the rights have been snapped up and it will be developed into a three part series for television. I hope we will start filming this towards the end of next year (these things take a very long time). I preferred to go to television rather than film because the story takes place over almost a year and with a three parter you really have time to develop the characters and do justice to the story.

MeeraSyal Wed 24-Jun-15 13:11:21


I've just finished The House of Hidden Mothers and found it compelling reading. The characters were believable and most of them were likeable, especially the grandparents (unlike others I was intrigued by their battle for the stolen apartment and enjoyed the comparison to Jarndyce v Jarndyce). I found Tara irritating at first with her poor little rich girl attitude, but she certainly grew up quickly as the story moved on and she was given a lot more to worry about than the plans of her embarrassing parents. I was looking forward to the surprising twist at the end that others have mentioned, but was disappointed as I'd sort of expected a twist from the obvious, if that makes sense confused. The book finished much as I expected it to, but yes, like others I appreciated the little touch at the end when glimpses of the characters' futures were given.

I would like to ask Meera whether she could see herself playing the central character in a film adaptation of the book? I certainly could.

Thank you again to Meera and Gransnet for such an entertaining read. smile

Following on from the film question, that would be nice but I suspect that by the time it's actually made I'll be too old to play the main character! Both my other books have been made into screen adaptations and I only took the roles I felt were right for me. It's best not to think about who you're playing, or might play, while you're trying to get the script right, so I think casting decisions will be made once we have filming dates. Maybe I can play Dr Passi as she could be anywhere from mid-forties to sixties. That buys me a bit of time!

MeeraSyal Wed 24-Jun-15 13:16:04


Just finished "house of hidden mothers" took a little while to get into it, but then it all came together and I really enjoyed it. characters all very believable and I can see it as a film. Meera Syal must have considered this already! I can see her as the female lead!! I wonder what Asian women have thought about this book? I have no Asian friends, unfortunately, so I would be interested to know. Thanks again gransnet for a lovely treatflowers

The book hasn't come out in India yet, but t does soon and I will be very interested to hear what the reaction is over there. Certainly the feedback I've had from female Asian friends here has been very positive. Interestingly, what Asian people tend to pick up on more than the surrogacy issue is the sub-plot of the grandparents trying to get their stolen flat back from their greedy relatives. I don't know one Asian family who hasn't had this situation somewhere in their background. It's incredibly common and has caused a lot of upset and pain to many families. The reason for this is that most of our parents sent money back home to buy land or property that they intended for their retirement, and in a majority of cases this has ended badly. It's something that we all know about in our community but I'm beginning to find out that it's a new and surprising fact outside of it, as even special pressure groups that have been set up in America by NRI families (non-resident Indian) who have had years of suffering trying to get property back and they want to put pressure on the Indian government to reform the law and offer protection to families like them.

MeeraSyal Wed 24-Jun-15 13:16:41


I also loved the book but found the parents' story heartbreaking. Very well-written which is why I got so sucked into it but the cruelty of the wider family was just horrendous. I would like to ask Meera whether such property disputes are common place and whether there really is nothing you can do even if you are in the right. I felt so sad for the couple that you have painted so vividly and wondered if their story was based on one you knew of in reality.

Hope I've answered your question about whether such property disputes are so commonplace.

Nixnax Wed 24-Jun-15 13:19:20

Hello Meera I was just reading your answer to maggiemaybe - and it got me thinking about women who are on TV/in films. I wondered have you experienced much ageism? It seems to be an industry where youth is greatly prized. Meanwhile I think you are marvellous and have loved everything I have seen you in. Thank you

MeeraSyal Wed 24-Jun-15 13:19:51


I know Meera's early life in Britain was detailed in her first book - Anita and me -, I would like to ask her if this novel is based on any of her family or anyone known by her family?
And although she has children of her own, I also wonder if she would go as far as this if she badly wanted children herself and wasn't able to have them.
A good read, thanks again

Yes Geri, the sub-plot of the stolen flat is inspired directly by something that happened to my own parents. They spent many, many years trying to get a property vacated by some very close relatives and went through a very similar and several court hearings, which cost them a lot of money and their health over a number of years. They did eventually manage to get the flat back, but by then they were so exhausted and upset by everything that had happened - and too old to enjoy their planned retirement there - that they sold it at a loss and just moved on.

MeeraSyal Wed 24-Jun-15 13:31:23


I was really looking forward to this book as I had read and enjoyed Meera's previous two novels - and I was not disappointed! For me, this was a novel to be read slowly so as to savour her vivid descriptions of life in India and to understand the intricacies of the various sub-plots. She deals with a range of big issues like infertility, relationships, different cultures, poverty and domestic violence but still manages to inject a lot of humour into her writing and I found her characters to be so well written - ordinary people with both good and bad traits. I would highly recommend this book, although I recognise that it may not be to everyone's taste.

I have a few questions for Meera. Firstly, I would like to know what made her choose to write about surrogacy. I also wonder why she waited so long before writing her third novel. Finally, (if she doesn't mind answering three questions) which writers does she most admire and has she been influenced by any of them?

Many thanks, Meera, for an excellent thought-provoking read and to Gransnet for sending me the book.

The choice of surrogacy as a subject matter was almost by chance. I knew I was very overdue on my third novel but I hadn't found the idea that really made me want to sit down and write the story - until I was channel surfing one night and came across a documentary about the surrogacy industry in India. The first image I saw was a row of heavily-pregnant, obviously poor Indian women sitting on dormitory beds, looking a bit like battery hens. I kept watching and was astonished to find out the the surrogacy industry in India is the biggest in the world - worth about $4.5bn. Because it is at present unregulated and cheaper than anywhere else. My first reaction was instinctively "this is terrible, this is exploitation" and I was also reminded vividly of one of my favourite books, Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, in which she imagines a future where fertile women are owned and controlled by rich infertile women. However, when I began to do more research and I considered the pain that so many of my friends have gone through, who have struggled with fertility issues, I realised this was not a simple black and white issue. It was full of grey areas and leaves you with the question, "Is this process exploitation? Or is it a practical solution that grants a baby to a desperate couple and a life-changing amount of money to a poor woman?" I knew then that this was exactly the kind of story I'd been looking for, because I could explore all the areas I've always been interested in - female relationships, mothers and daughters, motherhood, the ever-changing relationship between India and England. And ageing. Female ageing. And of course, the politics of fertility. I also felt very strongly that Mala, the surrogate, should not come across as a victim and should be as vivid and real as Shyama, the Western woman who is hiring her. I was also fascinated by the power balance and dynamic between two people from completely different worlds, who for a short time period, desperately need each other. And how that delicate power balance might shift and change.

Finally, the writers I most admire, in no particular order, Tony Morrison, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Margaret Atwood. And am I allowed to say SHakespeare? Just because no one does popular drama and profound poetry together the way that he does. And I adore poets Carol-Ann Duffy and Christina Rossetti.

MeeraSyal Wed 24-Jun-15 13:33:37


Thank you Gransnet and Penguin Random House for this beautiful book! My copy arrived weekend before last, as we were about to fly out to Barcelona on Bank Holiday Monday for my birthday (so this made a really nice gift to me)! I have thoroughly enjoyed reading it, despite the at times quite hard to stomach subject matter - intense yet compelling. Meera has proved herself again to be a very witty author. Brilliant book - most certainly a film in the making and perhaps a follow up novel?

Thank you very much for your lovely comments. You and many others have asked if there will be a follow up novel - I tend not to return to any of the characters I've created. So although I am thinking about the next book, I don't think it will be about Shyama and the gang - although it would certainly be interesting to fast-forward 18 years to see how Toby and Shyama's little boy turns out.

Minna Wed 24-Jun-15 13:37:52

I am stunned by those facts about the surrogacy industry in India. Thank you for bringing this to my attention,. I have ordered your book

MeeraSyal Wed 24-Jun-15 13:41:19


Hello Meera I was just reading your answer to maggiemaybe - and it got me thinking about women who are on TV/in films. I wondered have you experienced much ageism? It seems to be an industry where youth is greatly prized. Meanwhile I think you are marvellous and have loved everything I have seen you in. Thank you

Oh thank you very much! And I would need at least three hours to tell you about the ageism in our industry! I'm appearing in a series on Sky Atlantic which has just started, called The Brink, which I filmed in Los Angeles last year with Jack Black and Tim Robbins. And while it was a fantastic job and I worked with amazing people, I was cast as the mother of an actor who is only five years younger than me. And recently Maggie Gyllenhaal, who's 37, revealed that she had been told that she was too old to play the lover of a 50-year-old actor. I think the industry hasn't caught up yet to the fact that women in their 50s and beyond (or so-called 'older women, i.e. anyone over 45) look fantastic, feel fantastic and have the wisdom and life experience to really play the big, complex roles. I think another problem is that so many actresses feel under pressure to have cosmetic surgery, that we are just not used to seeing natural older women on screen, whereas of course, men are allowed to wrinkle and grey up because it makes them look distinguished, whereas it makes us either scary or invisible. I do think this is changing slowly - there are a lot of powerful, vocal women in the business that are trying to change things. However, it does point to a much bigger issue in our society, which is that older people generally are not respected or revered the way they should be. And that's something we all have to tackle together.