The Rules of Conception by Angela Lawrence
Harlequin Enterprises Australia; Published May 1, 2013
Paperback 320 pages
Ebook courtesy of publisher and netgalley
Rachel Richards is ready to be a mother. She’s got a great job, a good income, a beautiful inner-cityapartment, and a great group of supportive friends. All she needs is a father.
But go-getter Rachel won’t let a little thing like that get in the way of her dreams. After investigating different options to become pregnant, co-parenting, adoption and anonymous sperm donors, Rachel finally settles on a method of conception – using a known donor. Making the decision to choose the biological father for her child, Rachel picks Digby. The single, softly-spoken Canadian with a complicated family background wants to have children, but not have a child.
After a few attempts, Rachel is able to conceive and begins to dream about the kind of life she will create for her and her child. But the well-established foundation for her dream soon begins to develop cracks. Lyndall, her nightmare boss, is becoming even more obsessed with ruining Rachel’s career, a desirable, but undeniably married, colleague is beginning to show inappropriate interest and the stress of her impending new life is starting to take its toll on Rachel’s health.
Now Rachel is beginning to question if she should have followed the rules of conception after all…
You know how there are those books that you just get sometimes. The ones that seep into your every waking thoughts and make you question some of the things you did and didn’t know? Well, The Rules of Conception was one of those books for me. While it’s true its not exactly a ground breaking novel nor is it likely to win dozen’s of awards, it was a feel good book that I connected with from very early on in the writing. A process helped by the narratives unique feel and new approach to what is consistently a very repetitive market.
At it’s core, and hence the title, The Rules of Conception, is Rachel Richard’s story and hers alone. It’s the story of her desire for a child and the realisation that it might not happen due to reasons outside of her control. After making a deliberate and well thought out decision to have a child alone, Rachel is faced with a number of complications and further decisions. Does she go with a known or unknown donor to get pregnant? Or should she adopt? Does she wish to be a co-parent or is it something she ultimately wants to do on her own? Like all things Rachel puts her mind to, she systematically and logically works her way through these complications and further decisions that arise with a refreshing and modern outlook on what is mostly a taboo subject.
Within minutes of starting this novel, I was immediately drawn to Rachel’s character. She was strong-minded, and in a many ways a free spirit. She was good at her job, had a supportive family who lived close enough to remain in contact with comfortably but far and assumptions of family, parenthood and expectations of mothers and is thus closed minded to untraditional methods; Lyndall (Rachel’s manager) is a career minded women with no children; Digby (the donor) who wants to father children but not necessarily have them; Annabell (Rachel’s collegue and close friend) represents the younger generation who are more open minded as whole to the issue of conception, but isn’t ready to have children of her own yet; and lastly there are a number of minor gay characters who express their desires to have children and are looking to share a child with someone or have a surrogate pregnancy via a third party. Rachel’s friends have children through traditional avenues (i.e. married partners falling pregnant naturally) while other friends have gone through IVF. Every avenue is explored and given a voice and I found these aspects made the narrative all that more compelling and authentic as they helped to firmly place Rachel’s story within my everyday world as I know many people with these exact traits themselves.
Overall this book is well written, engaging and such a compelling read that you will want to start reading it as soon as you get your hands on a copy. That said however, when you start reading make sure you leave your self a small window of time to finish the book because once it starts you won’t want to leave the somewhat unconventional ride. enough away to give her space and peace of mind. Her friends were vibrant and she had a healthy social life. But like all well-rounded characters, Rachel has her flaws too. She sucks at relationships. Having gone from bad relationship to worse, she’s ready to give being single a chance and is thus giving up on waiting for ‘Mr. Right’ to waltz into her life. And yet, Rachel is lonely. She longs for a steady and successful relationship like those flaunted before her. To overcome this sense of ‘other’ Rachel throws herself into her work, but she’s being bullied by her boss and coupled with everything else that’s going on in her life, her self confidence is taking a massive hit. Don’t get me wrong; Rachel is not a whining character. She’s strong willed and she learns to take a stand. In fact one of the things that kept my head stuck so firmly in this book was the way in which Lawrence builds up her character and develops her into the mother figure at the end of the book. You can’t help but cheer her on in her quest.
What surprised me most about this narrative was the unbiased and well-rounded nature of the narrative itself. Given the focus on such a taboo topic, it would have been all too easy for Lawrence to have simply presented her take on the Motherhood/Family-Unit debate and left it at that. Thankfully that’s not the path Lawrence has taken here and the novel reads all the better because of this. Through the use of characterisation, Lawrence has presented the reader with various cross-sections of society and given them all an equal voice on the subject, thus resulting in authentic modern outlook on society and the issue as a whole. For example: Patrick (Rachel’s boss) toes the line on traditional expectations and assumptions of family, parenthood and expectations of mothers and is thus closed minded to untraditional methods; Lyndall (Rachel’s manager) is a career minded women with no children; Digby (the donor) who wants to father children but not necessarily have them; Annabell (Rachel’s collegue and close friend) represents the younger generation who are more open minded as whole to the issue of conception, but isn’t ready to have children of her own yet; and lastly there are a number of minor gay characters who express their desires to have children and are looking to share a child with someone or have a surrogate pregnancy via a third party. Rachel’s friends have children through traditional avenues (i.e. married partners falling pregnant naturally) while other friends have gone through IVF. Every avenue is explored and given a voice and I found these aspects made the narrative all that more compelling and authentic as they helped to firmly place Rachel’s story within my everyday world as I know many people with these exact traits themselves.
My biggest regret with this book is perhaps its end. While it does end on a high, and with Rachel’s baby being born (this is not a spoiler, look at the name), there is no indication of how Rachel will ultimately overcome some of her now biggest obstacles. After having been enthralled by the idea and engaged by the character I was a bit disappointed to learn we were being left out of some of these insights towards the end, especially when one considers just how intimate the book is (we are talking about all the nitty-gritty, hormonal good and bad aspects of pregnancy and its many facets including the not so nice side of work and alternate positions). Personally I wanted to know how she was going to explain everything to her child later on in life. What Diby’s role in the raising the child would be since they spent a fair bit of time emphasising that while it was Rachel’s choice to how big of a part Digby would play, they were essentially going to play it by ear. What’s more, I wanted to know how she was going to embrace motherhood as a whole? Would she cope? Was she still happy with her decision six months, a year, ten years down the track? Would she have done it differently if she had another chance? While the realistic reader in me knows that the title sets up the book so that it is simply ins and outs of the so-called ‘socially acceptable’ methods of conception, and while I’m okay with that, a large part of me wanted to know more. That side is secretly hoping that Lawrence decides to write a possible sequel down the track.
Rules of Conception is a compelling narrative that is both humorous and serious at the same time for although it is a very modern look at our everyday lives and expectations, it also takes on a rather taboo and traditional mode of lifestyle and turns it on its head, opening the readers eyes and minds to a new position that is considered to be somewhat alternative and extreme. It’s this unique and modern look that really captures the essence of the novel and makes the narrative both striking and addictive, a point further enhanced by how well crafted and presented the narrative is as a whole.
This novel was read as part of my Australian Women Writer’s Challenge 2013.