Motherlight - a novel

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


'Motherlight' is a literary novel arising from experiments in writing for children, memoir, short stories and flash fiction, each one focusing on aspects of female experience, Russian folktale and the conflict between agrarianism and a capitalist market economy. It is composed of fragments -isolated scenes - sifted, re-written and re-ordered in pursuit of a narrative whole.
The novel is set entirely in Ukraine and opens in September 1992, one year after independence. Frances, a young English mother, joins her journalist husband in Kiev. Terrified of the apartment's balcony, she develops obsessive rituals to keep their baby safe. Her difficulties expose her to a struggle between Elena Vasilyevna, the old caretaker, and Mykola Sirko, the racketeer. Frances is the interloper, ignorant yet culpable. As consequences bear down she seeks out Zaya, her husband's caustic-tongued fixer, and Olek, the roller-blading boy who is paid by Mykola to spy on them all.
'Motherlight' is about motherhood and alienation. Its intention is to raise questions about what endures and what might be cast aside, as well as the nature of forgiveness. The time frame is one year, moving from one harvest to another, following the shift from the birth of a 'new' country to seemingly intractable paralysis and also the development of the child Ivan from newborn to toddler. It contributes to the canon of fiction about the ingenue abroad by focusing on a young mother who is outside the 'action' - the antithesis of the male adventurer. Baby Ivan appears in almost every scene in the novel; the 'domestic' is unleashed rather than confined and motherhood (in its many guises) is revealed as a central preoccupation for secondary characters Zaya, Mykola, Olek, Elena and Suzie. Frances, meanwhile, understands that her impact on those who remain in Kiev, ultimately, is negligible, yet they have enabled her to move beyond her own stasis as a daughter and as a mother.
Date of Award2 Nov 2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Winchester
SupervisorAndrew Melrose (Supervisor) & Amanda Boulter (Supervisor)


  • novel
  • literary fiction
  • Ukraine
  • Kiev
  • motherhood
  • independence
  • alienation
  • communism

Cite this

Motherlight - a novel
Heneghan, J. (Author). 2 Nov 2017

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis