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.