Twelve Moons: A Year Under A Shared Sky

By Caro Giles

Publisher: HarperNorth

Publication Date: January 2023

Considering the moon phases over the course of the year is something I had never consciously done before. Every now and again I will be stopped in my tracks by a full moon, crisply white against the night sky, sometimes so big it inspires awe before I quickly get on with what it was I was doing. I hadn’t thought to look for it, to decide to make time for it, to recognise it in a world that is so busy. It remains a constant in a world filled with uncertainty. This idea is a running motif throughout Caro Giles’ memoir ‘Twelve Moons’, a poignant and evocative reflection on the life of the writer who lives with her four daughters who are lovingly nicknamed to match the personalities and idiosyncrasies of each: The Mermaid, The Whirlwind, The Caulbearer and The Littlest One.

Giles examines and processes how the course of her life’s events have led to her current situation: ‘how I have ended up on my own in the Northern most corner of England with four little girls, when I spent my childhood dreaming of bright lights and centre stage?’ Despite articulating trepidation and uncertainty and doubt, her bravery and tenacity shine from the page as does her deep love for her children. The trauma of navigating a separation as well as school systems unable to meet her children’s needs felt overwhelming and her honesty with regards to how this impacted her sense of self was something that was identifiable, ‘How can my story be excavated from the mine of my life when so much is devoted to others?’

Not only is the sense of individual loss explored but the writer foregrounds a lot of the stigmas associated with raising children who are deemed not to ‘fit’ into mainstream schooling. It felt that the issue centred back to motherhood specifically and how a mother choses to raise her children as being the direct cause of school attendance and thriving in a mainstream setting. A passage in which the author describes having to de-register one of her children from school by the age of six was particularly emotive and hard-hitting. How the writer was told she was responsible for making her child anxious ‘some kind of Munchhausen-by-proxy imitation designed to induce fear and confusion. A special type of gaslighting that conveniently conceals the reality.’ This line initially made me feel all the anger I had experienced with education systems but also a sense of it being a uniquely female burden of blame. Having to battle systems not adequately equipped with knowledge, finances and sometimes just basic empathy felt all too familiar. Very often home schooling can be one the very few options available to parents finding themselves in this situation and as Giles highlights for all its potential joys, it can be all consuming and immersive. Very often feelings of isolation can take rise, resulting in a loss of self.

This balance between motherhood and desiring individual freedom is something returned to throughout the text. The question of how can we do or be both is a powerful one. The answer is elusive, but part of it seems to be attached in the solace of the landscape, the wilderness of the Northumberland coast where the writer lives and, of course, the moon. The familiar certainty of its stages helped provide a certainty and reassurance in contrast to the unpredictability of life. It is, figuratively and literally, a light in the dark. Descriptions of the natural world permeate the novel, charting the ebbs and flows of the family’s life across a whole year. They are beautifully drawn and highlight the necessity of place in allowing fullness of life to take place whilst providing restoration for all the protagonists. It is here they can be truly themselves; the book felt just as much a love letter to the natural landscape as it did to her daughters.

Overall the novel felt to be a contemplation of motherhood and the fierce love between a mother and her daughters. I was in awe of Caro Giles and all that she does. Nurturing and providing whilst trying to preserve a tiny piece of space and time to write and be. Their tribe is a force that is at once fragile, but also characterised by strength and togetherness. A beautiful, honest and raw text. One that I will return to again and again.

Thank you to NetGalley and HarperNorth for my advanced copy.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s