“Families, she thinks, normality. Not something she ever knew, not something she can ever provide.”
The relationship between a mother and her child is special. It’s a big topic in shows like Gilmore Girls or Downton Abbey; but we also have the typical main character with a dead mother, like in Hamilton, Beauty and the Beast, or Batman. The absence of, or trauma due to, a mother figure seems to be a more common motive in fiction, it just adds a little bit of spice.
So also in James Bradley’s Ghost Species. The relationship between Kate and her mother is mentioned a few times, but only really discussed in one scene.
Before I go into that though, I would like to add a trigger warning for mentions of alcohol, childhood trauma, and abuse. Also, an obvious spoiler alert for Ghost Species, in case you haven’t read it.
During the majority of Ghost Species, we are following Kate, see her view of the world and get to know what she thinks. Whenever her mother, Claire, is mentioned, we get to know that she doesn’t have the best relationship with her. From the first time that Claire is mentioned, it is clear that she is an alcoholic, which resulted in her not being able to properly take care of Kate.
Only when Claire dies do we get more information on her. She seemed to have had a bunch of boyfriends during Kate’s childhood. One of those is discussed in more detail: A man named Paul, who made Kate deeply uncomfortable by staring at her and making dirty jokes. That makes you think: What if he wasn’t the only one? Claire might have had more boyfriends who were making Kate uncomfortable, maybe even more than that. And maybe these experiences made her trust men less. Maybe that is why she never seems to fully trust Jay.
During her childhood, Kate tried to spend as much time outside of the house as possible, doing homework at a friend’s house. This is not a surprise, since she had to deal with her mother’s hallucinations of men following her, her alcoholism, and her showing up with bruises all over her body with no explanation.
When Kate was finally old enough, she moved away from her mother, not only distancing herself geographically from her but also emotionally. Regardless of how hard she tried, growing up with her mother’s way of life influenced her. Everything she had seen, what she had to deal with, is still in her subconscious. This also shows in the way she never seems to be able to settle in one place, she never seems to have a home. Just a place to stay at, ready to leave it in case she has to. This is also portrayed when she flees with Eve. The way she lives with Eve for years is very similar to the way she spent her childhood. In a way, she became like her mother. She became more like the person responsible for her trauma, more like the person she never wanted to be.
“Eve is not an Experiment, she is a conscious being, she deserves the right to find her own path, to be her own person.“
Despite this, Kate has also managed to achieve what she strove for in the first place: to create a safe environment in which her daughter Eve can grow and learn. This desire seems to be one of the most, if not the most driving force behind the actions and decisions Kate takes throughout the course of the story.
There is an almost supernatural sense of certainty and confidence with which Kate upholds her belief in Eveˋs human (or neanderthal) rights. It is striking what measures she takes to fight for her daughter, even though she never had someone do the same for her. Kate speaks up and takes charge whenever her daughter’s well-being is at risk. This hero-esque behavior culminates when Kate abducts Eve from the specialized facility that is able to provide professional healthcare and security. Kate as a biologist knows firsthand that Eve’s development is unknown due to her different genetic makeup. One time her daughter gets sick with a high fever she is not even sure how Eve‘s body will react to Paracetamol. We get to see this other side of Kate. Taking her own upbringing into account, the fact that she has experienced how the selfishness of others can affect one’s own personal life for the worse points to behavior that is irresponsible and motivated by short-sighted self-interest. Like so many of us, Kate is living with what she has subconsciously learned along the way, and that’s how she carries the trauma with her.
During Eve’s childhood, the two are very closely bonded and remain so throughout her more rebellious and moody years. As she grows up and becomes her own person rather than a shy infant, conflict arises. Once, she gets in a fight with Kate after sneaking out at night to secretly meet some of her friends and accidentally pushes her over. After Kate is diagnosed with a brain tumor and her health deteriorates rapidly, her roles as caregiver and dependent are gradually reversed. Just like her mother did years prior, Eve stands by her side and takes care of the other unconditionally. The two women are deeply bonded by the turbulent and unusual life that they share. When Kate dies shortly after, Eve cannot help but wonder how much she actually knew about her mother as a person. This feeling of distance and strangeness, of not knowing for certain what is going on in the other person’s mind, is a recurring motif. Of course, there is an obvious difference in species, in chemical makeup and genetics, but still: Kate and Eve show us that the mother-daughter connection is a complicated and intangible bond that can transcend those differences.