10 March 2021

University of East London academic Dr Roberta Garrett has published a new book which examines recent depictions of family and motherhood in popular literature.

Drawing on the often barbed dynamics of a range of fictional families, Writing the Modern Family: Contemporary Literature, Motherhood and Neoliberal Culture examines six genres from the past 30 years, aiming to illuminate a culture of partisan judgement over women's behaviour.

The book is the product of many years of investigation, thought and discussion. I'm hugely proud that I have been able to weave together a number of strands of thought into a cogent and topical examination of the state of family, feminism and motherhood in popular literature,"

Dr Roberta Garrett, senior lecturer in Arts and Creative Industries at UEL, said.

In her introduction to the book, Dr Garrett points out that feminism has once more appeared in the popular domain, through works such as Big Little Lies, We Need To Talk About Kevin and The Handmaid's Tale.

She states, "Despite their incorporation of many feminist critiques of patriarchal culture, such as the exploitation of women's domestic labour or the sexual objectification and abuse of women, these texts nonetheless offer a heavy-handed endorsement of motherhood as an unquestionable good.

"In opposition to more serious feminist analysis of representation of the maternal, mothering is depicted as an innate female skill and virtue: an eternal aspect of women's lives that lies beyond the realm of feminist critique or analysis."

This stands in contrast to previous decades of popular feminist texts, she says.

The book looks at six distinct genres that have risen since the 1990s: the misery memoir, the mum's lit popular novel, the maternal confessional, dads' lit, the dysfunctional domestic novel and family noir.

Dr Garrett, author of Postmodern Chick Flicks, concludes with a rallying cry for a #metoo moment for motherhood with the ability to cut through the myth of the maternal and find often uncomfortable truths that should become common cultural currency in discussions about women's lived experiences.

The book has received critical praise from academics across the country. Peter Morey, professor and chair in 20th century English literature, University of Birmingham, called it "urgently topical" adding it offered a "compelling insight into the ideological challenges faced by feminism in confronting continued patriarchal privilege".

Tracey Jensen, of Lancaster University, said the book was a "literary masterclass in hunting down mother-shaming and domestic dysfunction, guilt, rage, and discontent", and Charlotte Beyer, of the University of Gloucester, said it was "absolutely essential reading for feminist popular fiction and motherhood scholars".

Writing The Modern Family: Contemporary Literature, Motherhood and Neoliberal Culture by Roberta Garrett is now available in paperback and is published by Rowan and Littlefield.

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