I devoured The Woman in the Middle in almost one sitting, I picked it up one evening, read 40 pages and just knew it was going to be brilliant. I settled down the next day to read the remaining 400! The Woman in the Middle is such a heartfelt, relatable story - Milly has the words and analogies that just sums everything up perfectly. Sandwiched between family and work pressures it’s easy to forget to care for yourself too - my emotions yo - yo’d whist reading, she touched so many raw nerves, throughout the book that at times I found myself reading with a lump in my throat that I couldn’t swallow. I think The Woman in the Middle evoked in me every emotion possible from one end of the spectrum to the other. So many aspects of family life tackled in a thought provoking way.
The central character is Shay Bastable, a woman with a backbone of steel, and a heart of gold, her whole life is centred on administering care and support for her whole family. Mostly unnoticed and without thanks. Shay is described as part of the sandwich generation - a term I’d never heard before but totally understood as the story unfolded. She is stuck, sandwiched in the middle, somewhere between caring for her two elderly parents and that of her grown up children who having flown the nest appear to have dropped off her radar. Let’s also not forget Bruce, her husband too.
I absolutely loved Shay, but wanted to give her a push to add ‘herself’ into the equation, she was totally selfless - the needs and lives of her family uttermost in her every thought and action, never asking for anything for herself nor seeking pity for a life of giving - she personified the best mother, daughter, wife role. Caring for her family was uppermost in her mind, she never put herself first, she saw her role in the family and fullfilled it.
Shay visits her mum everyday, providing essential care for her Roberta, left to do it alone by sister Paula, she doesn’t have time in her day. Roberta has dementia and becomes fixated on the arrival of a skip next door, the name on the side triggering memories. This sets off a chain of events that turns both their lives upside down and subsequently the inter-family relationships, irrevocably on their head. Relationships, friendships and family life are reassessed as Shay finds herself going back to her past to understand her present and subsequently shape her future.
As much as this was a heartfelt, emotional read for me it was also hopeful and uplifting at the same time, shining light on the dark moments, life evolves and nothing and no one stays the same forever. Milly tastefully scattered a liberal amount of humour throughout to soften the edges, and as the story ended I was left with a lighter heart and a smile on my face. Thank you Milly Johnson for yet another beautiful story about relationships, family dynamics, love and friendship delivered in your usual open, honest, straight-forward style - just perfect.