When the academic, broadcaster and critic Margaret Reynolds was in her mid-forties she realised that what she most wanted was a child. Adoption offered her the best hope of becoming a mother, but the process was gruelling. After more than six years of relentless self-examination, bureaucratic hurdles and false starts, she was matched with a six-year-old girl. Loving someone is “a commitment that tries and shapes the self”, Reynolds writes in this meditative and searching literary memoir, which is an exploration of her journey to motherhood and a painful account of the suffering experienced by children misleadingly described as “in care”.
Most of us are aware of how hard it is to adopt a child —the process took Reynolds seven years of struggle — but nobody would deny that utmost care must be taken. Having said that, her account of all the hoops she had to jump through, the panels she had to face, the mistakes she made, is enthralling and frustrating in equal measure. Despite volunteering in a nursery and a school, and showing that she is willing and able to rearrange her life to accommodate a child, Reynolds (like many would-be adopters) meets initial rejections. Early on she makes a colossal mistake in failing to disclose that, as well as being divorced, she has had a long relationship with a woman.
The Wild Track is an account of Reynolds’s five-year struggle to adopt a child and of the painful pleasure of becoming the mother to a troubled six-year-old daughter. It’s an extremely moving, sometimes baggy book (I wish its editor had been more ruthless in cutting the history of ambivalent motherhood injected into its first chapter). It has many great merits, among which is its ambivalence about the British adoption system, which Reynolds portrays as serving parents and children with admirable rigour that itself results in obstacles that cannot be in the interests of the numerous children brought up in care... But we have not got it right, and reading Lucy’s account, the precariousness of the care system is painfully felt. It’s this that makes Reynolds’s book such a necessary contribution to the literature on motherhood, and it’s lucky that both writers are so thoughtful, and so inspiringly attentive to each other’s experience.