Angie Abdou’s third novel is primarily concerned with the tension between two disperate cultural perspectives, and the nature of female identity it illuminates.
Vero is a well-drawn portrait of a harried wife and unhinged mother: told she can “have it all,” she struggles desperately to maintain an impossible facade. Worn down by the trials of adulthood, Vero tries in vain to please her largely juvenile husband and be a good mother to her two boys. When it all ends up being too much to bear, she shuts herself in the pantry with a glass of good white wine and a few too many painkillers, prompting her husband to recommend acquiring a nanny to ease the burden.
The family’s much-needed live-in help is the skilled yet inscrutable Ligaya, a woman from the Philippines whom Vero’s two boys come to lovingly call “LiLi.” From the moment LiLi moves into the family’s basement, the narrative examines the conflict between two very different women living in close quarters. Vero is the privileged, well-meaning, yet insensitive boss, going for morning jogs, attending yoga classes, and generally lacking self-awareness. LiLi is her grateful yet quietly resentful employee, polite but resistant when Vero – to assuage her own guilt – tries to form a friendship.
The installation of LiLi in Vero’s life also allows the beleaguered mother to attempt to rekindle the lost spark in her marriage by means of a couples’ vacation to a sex resort in Jamaica. The resulting circus of debauchery only reveals the absurdity of the upper-middle class and its compulsion to perform.
While LiLi is initially impenetrable, it is Vero, we come to realize, who relies on artifice and performance as a means of coping. As the book gallops furiously to its uncomfortable climax, we understand that Vero is seeking authenticity where none can be found, while LiLi remains genuine despite the secrets she harbours.
Abdou treats her imperfect (and occasionally infuriating) characters with kindness, highlighting a vital truth in her glaringly feminist narrative. In Between, it is the women who share the greatest burdens, yet still find it difficult to connect across lines of class and culture. Abdou has stared fraught subject matter in the face and handled it with grace and humour. Her refreshing novel sympathetically reveals women as they are, flaws and all.