Published: Jonathan Cape UK, April 7th 2022
My Rating: 5/5 stars
Ocean Vuong had absolutely nothing to prove to me, and still managed to exceed every expectation I thought I had. With his first collection Night Sky with Exit Wounds he introduced himself as one of the most talented poets of his time. With On On Earth We're Briefly Gorgeous, he cemented himself to be an absolute master of language in general, whether it be prose or poetry. His third big release Time is a Mother however, might be his best work so far.
In this collection of poetry Vuong returns to his exploration of the aftermath of his mother’s passing and the duality of the “ghost” that her memory leaves behind. The duality of agonizing grief against continuous love. The wish to conserve a memory, against the necessity to move forward. The way time is healing like a mother, but also a motherf*cker, for marching forward for you, but not someone you loved.
In addition, there’s the exploration prejudices based off race, sexual orientation, and the intersection of both, that was present in his previous work as well. All of which is done in an intimate, readable and yet poignant way.
For me personally, as much as I appreciate the craft that goes into poetry, I rarely come away absolutely loving a collection as a whole. With Time is a Mother, Ocean Vuong proved himself the exception: not only did his command of language strike an emotional note with me, this collection as a whole was very near flawless. Consistent, cohesive and connected internally (and to his other work), without becoming repetitive. What an absolute feat!
As a final note, I’d like to refer to Vuongs own words in a recent pre-release interview, on his feelings towards this collection, as I feel the do a perfect job of describing the kind of collection this is:
"Every time I finish a book, I am filled with regrets. (...) It doesn't mean that I'm not proud of what I've written — however fleeting pride might be — but only that I wish it could be more, that it could enact the mind's myriad changes in real-time. But a book is, in a way, the photograph of a spirit animated by the imagination and rendered in language. This means that by the time a manuscript is handed in, I would barely know who I am or what I have become since I first wrote it.
"But this time, I feel absurdly happy, content, utterly empty and full all at once. For whatever strange and ungodly reason, I don't doubt this book's place in the world the same way I have doubted my own selfhood in it.”
Many thanks to Jonathan Cape and Random House UK for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. Time is a Mother is set for release for April 7th by in UK, US and European territory.
Add this book on Goodreads.