Just discovered Jane Gardam, via something Kerry Clare said on facebook, and am really enjoying her. Particularly this hilarious, unsentimental description, from her novel God on the Rocks of a new baby and his eight-year-old sister's reaction to him:
Mrs Marsh, dazed about times of day, detached herself from the baby, drawing herself back and mopping about with a cloth. She lifted the baby up on her shoulder where a huge towelling nappy lay, hanging a little way down her back for the baby to be sick on. She massaged its back which was like the back of a duck, oven-ready. The baby's unsteady head and swivelling eyes rolled on her shoulder, its round mouth slightly open, wet and red. It seemed, filmily, to be trying to take in Margaret who was fiddling with things on the mantelpiece behind her mother. She looked down at it with a realistic glare. The baby under the massage let air come out of its mouth in a long explosion and pale milk ran out and over its chin.
"Filthy," said Margaret.
"There's my little lovekin," said Mrs Marsh. She lifted the baby into the air before her, both hands under the armpits, and let it hang like dough about to drop. "What did you say, dear? It's your treat-day with Lydia, isn't it?"
"This afternoon," said Margaret, dropping the baby's bottle of gripe water and smashing it to bits on the mottled cream tiles of the fireplace. Glass flew everywhere in splinters and the baby after jerking as if it had received an electric shock began to cry like a new lamb. "Lair, lair, lair," it went, scarlet in the face and flushing quickly to purple all over its bald head, its eyes in two directions.
Mrs Marsh was not upset, though she had jumped as violently as her son. Margaret saw her take the decision to be understanding rather than annoyed. "There now," she said. Placing the lamenting child over her other, nappiless, shoulder she drew Margaret to her to lean upon the other one. "Never mind , dear. Just an accident."
Margaret -- her mother smelled of milk and baby powder -- pulled away and made a face. "It's like a pig," she said.
Mrs Marsh looked yet more understanding. "Darling, you do know we love you, don't you? He's your baby, too, you know, just as much as ours. Look -- you hold him. You're such a big girl. He's going to love you so much."
"What's so marvellous?"
"About that? Why do I have to be pleased that he's going to love me? I don't need him."
"He will need you."
"No he won't. If I wasn't here he wouldn't know anything about me."
"But you are here."
"I'm not here for him. I managed without me. Nobody was here for me when I was born and I was all right."
Mrs Marsh, trying very slowly to digest this empirical point, wrapped the child very tight in a cloth with its arms crossed over its chest tight beneath it, then put it on its face in the flounced organdy of the crib.
It did not look up to its surroundings. More like a trussed duck than ever.
"It can't be good for it, bound up like that," said Margaret, and Mrs Marsh brightened at a sign of possible concern. "Oh yes it is, dear. It says so in Truby King. They like to feel safe."
"I don't see why you feel safe if you're tied up."
[Mrs Marsh] looked at the trussed baby, face down, its red head like a tilted orange rearing up and down on the undersheet as if desperately trying to escape. Giving up, it let its head drop into suffocation position and there was another explosion followed by a long, liquid spluttering from further down the cot: and a smell. "Oh dear," said Mrs Marsh contented, "now I'll have to start all over again with a new nappy. Could you hand me the bucket, darling?"
"His own image," said Margaret, watching the horrible unwrapping. "If God looks like us... What's the point?"