“Kaleidoscope” is an extended short story, just the right length to really get to know the narrating character, Claire, in detail and Claire is worth knowing. Her story is complex and, like looking through a kaleidoscope, can be viewed from many angles. Urged by a psychiatrist to write to help her make sense of her story, Claire reluctantly begins, trying to piece her fragments into coherence. Each fragment is separated by a catalogue listing for an item in their “Perfect Mothers’ Accessories” feature. Claire remembers a red kaleidoscope produced by her father as a ‘gift’ on the day her younger sister was born. The kaleidoscope was passed to Claire’s own baby daughter. One is a Julie, the other Julianne, but they are not confused.
They do share traits: Julie was the perfect little sister making Claire feel clumsy. Julianne is the perfect little baby making Claire feel inadequate. With her husband and sister focused on the baby, Claire slides into depression. Readers follow the story through Claire’s eyes.
She remembers still suffering morning sickness at her father’s funeral after his sudden death from a heart attack. It leaves her too focused on the physicality of pregnancy to process her grief. The grief re-emerges after Julianne’s difficult birth by cesarean section. Midwives and health visitors are too preoccupied with bureaucracy to really notice Claire. Claire feels Julie is a better mother to Julianne who only seems to cry in Claire’s presence. She feels as if her body is no longer hers: it let her down and she failed to give birth naturally. She and her husband sleep separately when they used to share a bed and she grows to suspect he’s having an affair.
Although Claire’s story distorts, the narrative is clear. Claire muddles memories of her own childhood with memories of her newborn daughter. Few marriages survive the loss of a baby. Claire blames herself but readers are free to decide if she’s right. The writing is precise and evocative. Through the fragments, a clear image of Claire builds as someone shaped by her childhood as an ignored but responsible sister to a prettier, sociable younger sister, someone whose grief was sidelined in favour of focus on physical issues and someone who slipped through the safety net health visitors are supposed to provide. Despite the distorting mirrors, the shiny images, Sarah Leavesley is firmly in control, as the body of a kaleidoscope keeps all the pieces in check but still allows the viewer to see what they want.
Kaleidoscope is available from Mantle Lane Press.
Leicester’s most famous fictional son turns 50 this year and to celebrate both Adrian Mole and his creator, Sue Townsend, Leicester University are having a party on 2 April 2017. Entry free, but you need to book in advance (click link): Adrian Mole’s 50th Birthday.