Review: Soldier Sailor - Claire Kilroy
Genre: Literary Fiction
Published: Faber&Faber, May 2023 My Rating: 2/5 stars
"Well, Sailor. Here we are once more, you and me in one another's arms. The Earth rotates beneath us and all is well, for now..."
When everybody and their mom (yes, I just dared to make that awful pun) so unanimously seems to love a novel, I always feel a kind of guilt for feeling differently. Claire Kilroy’s latest novel has been received with almost universal acclaim, but unfortunately, it did absolutely nothing for me.
Soldier Sailor is a stream of consciousness-style monologue of a woman to her newborn son, in which she reflects on the struggles new motherhood, and the seeming impossibility of this task that seems to come so natural to every other woman around her. Kilroy captures that feeling that many new mothers have felt well, and I can understand the appeal in seeing oneself reflected on page like this. My problem with it, is that there are already so many books that do this exact same thing.
I am truly grateful that we’ve lifted the taboo on speaking on the downsides of having children in recent years. We’ve taken motherhood off its pedestal as “the highest, most honorable calling for a woman”, to its far more nuanced reality, and it’s high time we did! For that reason, I’m happy about last decades increasing trend of troubled-motherhood-fiction, and even motherhood-horror-fiction. In fact: I have a pretty good stack of them on my shelves. My problem with Soldier Sailor, is that it’s just another book on that stack, bringing nothing new to the table. Although the words Kilroy choses are beautiful, the message is familiar and even trite.
What brought the book down from a 3 to a 2-star rating was the general negative picture the novel paints of men. I see this often in feminist novels, where attempt to uplift a woman, or critiques of one individual man cross the line into generalized man-hate. I’m very tired of that trope. Soldiers husband clearly isn’t the picture-perfect family-husband and deserved some criticism for that, but we didn’t need to generalize this into a guilt-trip directed at all men. From constant references to “the mans-world” out there, to quips about “only a man being able to design a car-seat with straps to free their hands from the baby”, to passive aggressive advise directed to her (infant!) boy about how to respect women when he’s grown. It crossed a line from righteous annoyance to wallowing in victimhood for me.
Overall, I can’t recommend this book, but I’m clearly in the minority here, so don’t let it deter you. Many thanks to Faber&Faber for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
You can find this book here on Goodreads.
On a completely separate note, specifically to the publisher: my reviews are about the content of the book, but I have to mention it. This cover is the most hideous thing and does not do the book any favours. I really hope they will consider a cover change on a next release.