Book Review of Salley Vickers' Grandmothers

I don't personally like this cover of Salley Vickers' Grandmothers. I can't quite put my finger on it, but I think it pigeon holes the book.

Salley Vickers’ Grandmothers¬†is an unusual and much needed book in that it focuses on the lives, loves and losses and hopes of three older women. They are either grandmothers, or in the case of Minna, a surrogate grandmother, It is through the relationship that the women have with their grandchildren that their inner thoughts, aspirations and ultimately moral values are demonstrated. In¬†Grandmothers, Sally Vickers¬†shows that the Grandmothers are valued far more by those in their grandchildren’s generation than they are by those in their children’s generation.

The main character in¬†Sally Vickers’ Grandmothers‘ is Nan who has a secret life as an award winning poet. We see her preparing her grandson as she prepares for death. It is around her that the book is structured. Of the other women Minna is shy and bookish and takes comfort in her friendship with a neighbour’s child. Blanche, is seemingly suave, sophisticated, wealthy and content but is in fact lonely and saddened about her estranged relationship with her son and daughter-in-law. At different points these characters’ lives interweave. Friendships are formed and the reader is encouraged to reflect on relationships, ageing, the future generation and the quintessential brevity of life.

I’ve recently read¬†Ruth Jones’ Us Three¬†which also explores the friendships of women in their middle age. It is a genre that I enjoy.¬†

Salley Vickers is a talented writer who makes us pay attention to the inner life of the Grandmothers in the book and more mature women generally.

Book Discussion Questions on Salley Vickers' Grandmothers

  • Which of the grandmothers would you most like to spend time with and why?
  • None of the grandmothers have had very successful relationships with lovers and husbands. Discuss.
  • Explore the mother/son relationships in¬†Sally Vickers’ Grandmothers.
  • Nan not only chooses her own coffin, but uses it as a piece of furniture. What does this reveal about Nan’s personality? How did you react to the idea? What does this reveal about you?!¬†
  • Both Nan’s second husband and son both discover that they are gay after having been married to a woman. Discuss how the success and failures of the¬†‘romantic’ relationships in the novel impact on the grandmother and grandchildren relationships.
  • Who is your favourite child character in¬†Salley Vickers’ Grandmother? Why?
  • Sum up in one or two sentences what Sally Vickers¬†is encouraging the reader to reflect upon in¬†Grandmothers‘.
  • Look into the future. What is your prediction for what will happen to the various grandchildren?¬†
  • On the book cover of¬†Salley Vickers’ Grandmothers¬†is the following quote by Phillip Pullman: “Vickers’ sees with a clear eye and writes with a light hand.” Do you agree? Discuss why or why not.¬†¬†
  • Friendship is a key theme that is explored in¬†Salley Vickers’ Grandmothers.¬†Discuss how Sally Vickers’ shows the power of female friendship in the novel?
  • Is Grandmothers’ a feminist text? Why or why not?¬†

Bookclub Questions on Grandmothers (if you haven't read the book!)

  • In¬†Salley Vickers’ Grandmothers¬†the women have better relationships with their grandchildren than they do with their children. Discuss whether you think this is typical and why or why not this is the case?¬†
  • In¬†Sally Vickers’ Grandmothers¬†Blanche gets a thrill first from shoplifting and then later from being independent and self-sufficient on her holiday to France. Can you relate to this? What has given you a sense of satisfaction in life?¬†
  • It is very clear that Kitty is Blanche’s favourite grandchild. Is it ok to have favourite children and grandchildren?¬†
  • One of Nan’s life goals is to teach her grandson Billie how to lie. What would you like to teach your own hypothetical or actual granchildren?¬†
  • Nan approves of Blanche’s decision to stop paying for Kitty’s private education. Discuss the benefits or private versus state provided schooling.

Personal Response to Sally Vickers' Grandmothers

I enjoyed reading Salley Vickers’ Grandmothers and thought that aspects of it were brilliant. It was a quick and easy page-turner which belies the depth of philosophical contemplation that underpins the social and personal commentary in it. Having said that if I’m honest, I did find the execution of the story-telling just occasionally a little heavy handed. There was a sense that the author simply needed to tell us something about the character rather than reveal it in order to keep the story moving forward. There is perhaps an argument that each of the grandmothers’ in Salley Vickers’ Grandmothers deserve their own novel and shouldn’t have to share one.

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