My review of Expecting: The Inner Life of Pregnancy by Chitra Ramaswamy appears online at the Scottish Review of Books as part of the 2016 Emerging Critics programme.
‘I felt as if / I was nothing, no one, I was everything to her, I was hers,’ writes Sharon Olds in ‘First Birth’. For Chitra Ramaswamy this self-immolation begins much earlier in pregnancy. She becomes breathless as her organs make room for the foetus, and later suspects the two heartbeats inside her are secretly conversing. Expecting: The Inner Life of Pregnancy is the award-winning journalist’s first book, charting the months until the birth of her child.
Nine chapters mirror the author’s gestation. Each one has a recurring motif, so that everyday events swell with meaning. ‘December’ is watery: it takes as an epigraph a stanza from Muriel Rukeyser’s ‘Islands’ and we’re told how the foetus’s hands are like paddles, ‘the tiniest of oars’, and its skin transparent, ‘an octopus revealing her ink’. She talks of morning sickness that ‘ebbed and flowed’ and the ‘unchartered waters’ that lie ahead. The symmetry between subject matter and form is deeply satisfying; the chapters feel as sculpted as essays. Later she remarks of a chance encounter that ‘a neat narrative circle had brought me here’. And perhaps her love of such things has shaped the book.
Expecting is a work of opposites. Paintings in a studio are ‘abstract and realist’. Glasgow is a city of ‘old ships, new shops’. Contrast defines her own situation too, balanced as she is between the worlds of pre and post parturition […]