Motherhood: A Novel (Paperback)

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May 2018 Indie Next List

“Sheila Heti has a way of tapping into the throes of consciousness and coming out with a precisely articulated version of how we think. Her new book, Motherhood, delves deep into the decision of whether or not to have children, while simultaneously exploring femininity, identity, and self purpose. Even if motherhood is not pertinent to your life, this book will shed light on our culture and the expectations that are bound to affect everyone at some point.”
— Courtney Flynn, Trident Booksellers & Cafe, Boston, MA


From the author of How Should a Person Be? (“one of the most talked-about books of the year”—Time Magazine) and the New York Times Bestseller Women in Clothes comes a daring novel about whether to have children.

In Motherhood, Sheila Heti asks what is gained and what is lost when a woman becomes a mother, treating the most consequential decision of early adulthood with the candor, originality, and humor that have won Heti international acclaim and made How Should A Person Be? required reading for a generation.

In her late thirties, when her friends are asking when they will become mothers, the narrator of Heti’s intimate and urgent novel considers whether she will do so at all. In a narrative spanning several years, casting among the influence of her peers, partner, and her duties to her forbearers, she struggles to make a wise and moral choice. After seeking guidance from philosophy, her body, mysticism, and chance, she discovers her answer much closer to home.

Motherhood is a courageous, keenly felt, and starkly original novel that will surely spark lively conversations about womanhood, parenthood, and about how—and for whom—to live.

About the Author

Sheila Heti is the author of eleven books, including the novels Pure Colour, Motherhood, and How Should a Person Be?, which New York deemed one of the "New Classics" of the twenty-first century. She was named one of the "New Vanguard" by the New York Times book critics, who, along with a dozen other magazines and newspapers, chose Motherhood as a top book of 2018. Her books have been translated into twenty-four languages. She lives in Toronto.

Praise For…

Named a Best Book of the Year by:
The New York Times Vulture (#1 of 2018) NPR Chicago Tribune BustleLit Hub Refinery29Financial Times The Times Literary Supplement Bookforum Top Shelf

Shortlisted for the Giller Prize

“Sheila Heti’s book seems likely to become the defining literary work on the subject . . . It’s hard to do justice to its complexity. This is less a book than a tapestry—a finely wrought work of delicate art.”
—Lara Feigel, The Guardian

“Deeply impressive . . . The book’s focus is not doing, but thinking, and the great pleasure it offers is that of a mind reflecting, obsessively and unpredictably, on a subject so central that it leads in every direction. For in writing about motherhood, Heti is also writing about femininity and vocation, embodiment and mortality, history and freedom.”
—Adam Kirsch, The Atlantic

“A provocative work that probes the new norms of femininity . . . Compelling . . . Wondrous.”
—Daphne Merkin, O Magazine

“Earthy and philosophical and essential . . . Motherhood floats, as did Heti’s excellent novel How Should a Person Be? (2012), somewhere between fiction and nonfiction. It reads like an inspired monologue . . . Heti’s semi-fiction, like that of writers like Ben Lerner, Rachel Cusk and Teju Cole, among others, is dismantling our notions of what a novel should be.”
—Dwight Garner, The New York Times (named a "Top 10 of 2018")

“Unique . . . By devoting so many pages to her conflicted, sometimes contradictory thought process, Heti honors the weight of this singularly assigned-female decision, and lends power to those who make it—those who choose not to have children and those who do.”
—Katie Heaney, BuzzFeed News

"Goes beyond questions of genre, and could best be described as a philosophical essay in the tradition of Montaigne. As she ponders whether or not to have children, Heti thinks clearly and originally about profound issues of vocation, responsibility, identity and what it means to be true to oneself. Spending time in the company of a serious mind is one of the chief pleasures of fiction, and that is what Motherhood provides."—The Times Literary Supplement

“Heti is at her best—her sharpest and funniest—when she writes about why having a child doesn’t appeal to her, cutting against saccharine commonplaces about the importance of child-rearing.”
—Elaine Blair, The New York Times Book Review

“Expansive . . . Meditative and playful . . . Motherhood treats the question of whether to become a mother and what it means to take on that responsibility with the seriousness and complexity it deserves . . . Heti’s important book is a positive assertion that motherhood is not an obligatory sacrifice, a glorified institution, the cornerstone of a woman’s being. Motherhood is—or should be—a choice, with each woman accorded the freedom to decide what it means.”
—Polly Rosenwaike, San Francisco Chronicle

“Utterly contagious . . . Comical and kaleidoscopic . . . In the novel’s most powerful passages, the narrator confronts the possibility of maternity by herself, wondering if a life that does not include being a mother can be defined by means other than lack . . . An inventively crafted novel about the complications of being a human being with competing or contradictory desires . . . Powerful . . . Darkly funny, but also kind of heartbreaking.”
—Kate Wolf, Los Angeles Review of Books

“Searingly honest . . . In urgent, first-person prose, Heti contrasts societal expectation with personal desire . . . Starkly intimate . . . The book’s sneaky power lies in a profound question that lacks an answer: How should a mother be?”
—David Canfield, Entertainment Weekly

“The title of Heti’s latest work of autofiction—a fashionable hybrid of essay, memoir, and novel—should properly end in a question mark like her last book, How Should a Person Be? . . . Heti’s aggressively ruminative avatar documents parenthood in her demographic as though it were a distant continent in a world without jet travel: the crossing would be perilous and irreversible, and require a lot of unpacking.”
—Boris Kachka, Vulture

Motherhood is an exhibition of Heti’s freedom.”
—Willa Paskin, Slate

“Heti deploys a stream of consciousness style of prose, which often strikes gold . . . An interesting tug-of-war to bear witness to: A successful writer’s internal battle regarding what should be done with the rest of her life. She reaches into every crevice of her brain, her soul, her womb, to pull out some semblance of a driving force behind her decision to have or not to have children.”
—Rachel Ellison, Bustle

“Original, insightful . . . Motherhood is such a powerful story, it’s as if she has to subvert the narrative logic of both novel and memoir to divine her true desires . . . It has also opened up a fruitful space for considering motherhood in all its complications . . . Terrifically funny and engaging.”
—Julie Phillips, 4Columns

“Heti’s book, like many of her novels, takes the mind as the primary setting, and thoughts are the major source of action: narrative arcs begin and end with the progress of her characters’ thinking, and the process by which they arrive at their conclusions. In Motherhood, this style suits the subject well—we’re brought so close to the narrator’s ongoing internal monologue that soon her thoughts start to feel like the reader’s.”
—Haley Mlotek, The Ringer

“Engrossing . . . Motherhood joins How Should a Person Be? and Women in Clothes to form what might be read as a field guide to womanhood in a particular literary-bohemian milieu . . . Motherhood, in this book, exists most of all as a force that shapes women’s lives and their relationships with one another. Heti approaches the subject with an observer’s curiosity more than a deliberate agenda.”
—Molly Fischer, New York Magazine

“Illuminating . . . Intimate . . . Poignant.”
—Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker

“In Motherhood, Heti takes on her most controversial and private debate yet—whether or not to have a child. A brilliant, radical, and moving book, it is sure to cause the cultural riot her earlier work has . . . There’s a new quality to Heti’s writing in Motherhood. The only way I can describe it is tenderness . . . Beautiful . . . Surprising.”
—Claudia Dey, The Paris Review

Motherhood goes deeper than simple yes or no answers. Heti wants to give women permission to take this question [of whether or not to have a child] seriously . . . One of the most powerful parts of Motherhood is that it doesn’t pit women against each other; instead, it creates an ongoing dialogue . . . invigorating.”
—Michele Filgate, Publishers Weekly (interview)

“The book is a painterly examination of [Heti’s] psyche—a Rorschach blot of inborn pressures and the exuberant autonomy that threatens them . . . Add love letter to the list of what Motherhood is . . . She tracks a clear trajectory of matriarchal pain . . . Sensuous and velvety.”
—Monica Uszerowicz, BOMB Magazine

“How can I be sure that I want to have a child? Motherhood—a tortured, honest novel—is the Canadian writer Sheila Heti’s attempt to answer this impossible question . . . Her creative process doubles as an attempt to work out her own feelings on the subject . . . The result is a book that is eclectic and compelling, a rare account of how a woman might sidestep what is, for many, a defining life event: the birth of a child.”
—Maggie Doherty, The New Republic

“Here is finally is. A book for all of you who are considering having a baby, who had a baby, who didn’t have a baby, who didn’t want a baby, who don’t know what they want but the clock is ticking anyway. This topic is finally tackled as if it were the most important decision in your life. Because, um. How lucky are we that one of our foremost thinkers took this upon herself, for years, in real time, wrestling every day and living to tell. So fucking ready to live in the world this book will help make. Read and discuss, discuss, discuss.”
—Miranda July, author of The First Bad Man

“An emotionally complex novel about motherhood that isn’t about children. An intricately constructed book based on games of chance. This feels new.”
—Jenny Offill, author of Dept. of Speculation

“A provocative, creative, and triumphant work of philosophical feminist fiction . . . Heti writes with courage, curiosity, and uncommon truth.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Charismatic and beguilingly original . . . oddly compelling . . . Sheila is funny, and idiosyncratic enough to rub contra to 2018, a time when the litmus test for a woman’s success is the extent to which her daily planner is a subject of marvel . . . A joy to read.”

“I deeply enjoyed Sheila Heti’s fractal, meticulous, and twinklingly self-aware book—in which every part seemed to know, and be informed by, every other part—about art and time and change and books and babies. Motherhood synergistically functions both as an intimate, moving, autobiographical novel and as a practical, mysterious, five-year tool used by its protagonist to help her contemplate and answer central questions in her life."—Tao Lin, author of Shoplifting from American Apparel and Taipei

“This lively, exhilaratingly smart, and deliberately, appropriately frustrating affair asks difficult questions about women’s responsibilities and desires, and society’s expectations.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Heti is always original.”
Library Journal

“This inquiry into the modern woman’s moral, social and psychological relationship to procreation is an illumination, a provocation, and a response—finally—to the new norms of femininity, formulated from the deepest reaches of female intellectual authority. It is unlike anything else I’ve read. Sheila Heti has broken new ground, both in her maturity as an artist and in the possibilities of the female discourse itself.”
—Rachel Cusk, author of Outline and Transit

“I read this novel more quickly and eagerly than any I’ve read in ages. Sheila Heti’s simple, elegant sentences invariably give pleasure; her thinking is incisive and wholly original as she grapples with the kind of unhappiness that many of us, myself included, prefer to distract ourselves from rather than look at squarely. Reading Motherhood forced me to become a little more honest with myself.”
—Adelle Waldman, author of The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.

“Reading this beautiful novel, I felt I was watching a brilliant mind invent new tools for thinking. Sheila Heti wrings revelation from the act of asking, again and again, in ever more challenging and innovative ways, impossible questions of existence. Motherhood is a thrilling, very funny, and almost unbearably moving book.”
—Garth Greenwell, author of What Belongs to You

“The book Sheila Heti’s Motherhood reminds me of the most is Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling, except that the agonizing decision is whether to create a child, and not whether to destroy one—but it’s that good, and that crazy-making. I’ve never seen anyone write about the relationship between childlessness, writing, and mother’s sadnesses the way Sheila Heti does. I know Motherhood is going to mean a lot to many different people—fully as much so as if it was a human that Sheila gave birth to—though in a different and in fact incommensurate way. That’s just one of many paradoxes that are not shied away from in this courageous, necessary, visionary book.”
—Elif Batuman, author of The Idiot and The Possessed

“With each of her novels, Sheila Heti invents a new novel form. Motherhood is a riveting story of love and fate, a powerful inspiration to reflect, and a subtle depiction of the lives of contemporary women and men, by an exceptional artist in the prime of her powers. Motherhood constitutes its own genre within the many-faceted novel of ideas. Heti is like no one else.”
—Mark Greif, author of Against Everything

“A refreshingly contemporary examination of an ageless subject.”
—Sue Carter, Toronto Star

Product Details
ISBN: 9781250214782
ISBN-10: 1250214785
Publisher: Holt Paperbacks
Publication Date: May 7th, 2019
Pages: 304
Language: English

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