Szilvia Molnar’s debut novel The Nursery is visceral and uncomfortable— Molnar presents the reader with a portrait of new motherhood with all its agonies, its unscrupulous disasters. I chose the novel partly because the cover, blurred and simplistic, intrigued me. After reading a couple of pages, I realized the image was that of a lactating breast, a symbol usually associated with nurturing, the beauty of loving and caring for an infant. Yet Molnar’s novel is interested in those moments of motherhood so often glossed over by the glorifying eyes of the reader: moments of intense isolation, physical pain, and resentment towards the narrator’s own child, unsentimentally referred to as “Button.” The disorienting and cold cover reflects the narrator’s transformation in the early days of her child’s life— “I used to be a translator,” writes Molnar, “and now I am a milk bar.”
Deeply reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper, the novel presents the attitudes and spaces that women, especially mothers, are supposed to inhabit as their worlds become stifling and distorted. While motherhood edges towards madness, the reader is forced to contend with the fact that there may not be a moment of revelation or relief: the exhaustion seems never ending, the confusion impermeable. Yet, fragments of life before motherhood remain, and the promise of different joys eventually emerges. The past may not be recoverable, yet Molnar’s novel imagines life as relentless, constantly and undeniably new.