Without a Backward Glance [NOOK Book]


A deeply felt first novel of family, choices, and coming to terms with the past.

On a stifling Christmas Eve in 1967 the lives of the McDonald children-Deborah, Robert, James, and Meredith-changed forever. Their mother, Rosemarie, told them she was running out to buy some lights for the tree. She never came back. The children were left with their father, and a gnawing question: why had their mother abandoned them?

Over the years, the four ...

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Without a Backward Glance

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A deeply felt first novel of family, choices, and coming to terms with the past.

On a stifling Christmas Eve in 1967 the lives of the McDonald children-Deborah, Robert, James, and Meredith-changed forever. Their mother, Rosemarie, told them she was running out to buy some lights for the tree. She never came back. The children were left with their father, and a gnawing question: why had their mother abandoned them?

Over the years, the four siblings have become practiced in concealing their pain, remaining close into adulthood, and forming their own families. But long-closed wounds are reopened when a chance encounter brings James face-to-face with Rosemarie after nearly forty years. Secrets that each sibling has locked away come to light as they struggle to come to terms with their mother's reappearance, while at the same time their beloved father is progressing into dementia. Veitch's family portrait reveals the joys and sorrows, the complexity and ambiguity of family life, and poignantly probes what it means to love and what it means to leave.

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Editorial Reviews

Vogue Australia
Warm and always honest, Veitch manages to capture the ebb and flow of sibling dynamics and illuminate the mixed bag of emotions that comes with family life.
Australian Women's Weekly
Impossible to put down.
Publishers Weekly

On Christmas Eve 1967, Rosemarie McDonald walks out the door of her suburban Melbourne home, leaving her husband behind to raise their four children: Deborah, the eldest at almost 13 and default mother; Robert, the compulsive worrier; James the peacemaker even at eight; and Meredith, the perpetual baby. Decades later, the children have forged their own families, but remain trapped in their original roles and are still somehow waiting for word from Rosemarie. When James rediscovers her on a trip to London, they are all faced with confronting their betrayer, and themselves, and possible forgiveness. Published under the title Listenin Veitch's native Australia, the novel's omniscient narration eavesdrops on the inner lives of each family member and their different ways of coping with abandonment-not all of them healthy. What emerges is a heartfelt yet unsentimental portrait of a family undone by a mother's desire, and its struggle to find ways to keep going and keep together. (June)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Library Journal

Veitch's debut novel is a compelling tale of a family fractured by abandonment. On Christmas eve 1967, Rosemarie McDonald, a young wife and mother, walks out of her family's home near Melbourne, Australia, and never returns. Over the next 40 years, her four children maintain close relationships with one another, establishing their own families and now helping to care for their aging father, whose grasp on reality is slipping. We meet the oldest, Deborah, authoritative and controlling; charming, artistic, and charismatic James; obsessive-compulsive Robert, always responsible; and the youngest, Meredith, flighty and fearful, all plagued by their mother's abandonment. Then James, in London on business, crosses paths with Rosemarie. The balance of the novel focuses on just how and when he will reintroduce his mother to his siblings. Veitch has written a powerful and engrossing story of family interactions complete with family members' frailties and strengths. Chockablock with rich, idiomatic Australian slang, this novel includes a glossary. Recommended for all fiction collections where Anita Shreve and Anne Tyler are popular.
—Andrea Tarr

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781440639579
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 6/24/2008
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 384
  • Sales rank: 901,592
  • File size: 395 KB

Meet the Author

Kate Veitch is a journalist and author who grew up in Melbourne, Australia. Currently, she divides her time between San Francisco and New South Wales, Australia.
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Reading Group Guide


On Christmas Eve in 1967, a London woman unhappily transplanted to the Australian suburbs makes a decision that will change forever the lives of her four young children.

Forty years on, those children are adept at concealing their shared pain. Deborah has a demanding political career; James is a successful artist, Robert a respected school principal. Only Meredith, the baby of the family, seems stuck. But as their father begins to lose his grip on reality, they find themselves floundering in an unfamiliar sea. And their past is about to reach into the present in ways that will shock and challenge them all…

A spellbinding contemporary novel, Without a Backward Glance draws us deep into the intensely private world of family life and brilliantly illuminates the joys, sorrows, and sustaining comfort that we find there.


Kate Veitch was born in Adelaide in the mid-1950s and left home and school early, eager for color and movement. Her work over the years includes writing articles and reviews for the Sydney Morning Herald andVogue, collaborating with other mothers on Feeling Our Way, a book about becoming parents, and producing a series on women writers, Their Brilliant Careers, for Radio National. She lives part-time in Manhattan and part-time in Melbourne, while she and her partner build a home for themselves in northern New South Wales. Without a Backward Glance is her first novel. To read more about Kate, go to www.kateveitch.com.


Q. How much of this novel is based on your own life?

There are certain similarities between the family in Without a Backward Glance and my own: four siblings, a father entering dementia—but I can honestly say that none of those characters bears much resemblance to me or my siblings, nor is the father my own father. I haven't had an immigrant forebear since 1852, and my mother never ran away. Each character in the book is an amalgam of different people I have actually known (including myself), plus a big serve of imagination. It sounds like a writer's cliché, but I really do find the most fun part of writing fiction is how the characters develop in ways I never expected.

Q. How did you come up with the main concept, a mother leaving her children and husband behind? What inspired you?

My own mother was an intelligent woman, trained as a journalist, who found herself trapped in the dull suburbs of postwar Melbourne with four children, just like Rosemarie, unable to find satisfying work due to the restrictive social mores of the times. She didn't leave, but I'm sure she sometimes wished she could! Her frustration and unhappiness, which eventually became chronic depression, gave us kids the feeling of her absence though not the reality. So, when I came to writing this novel, I wondered what it would be like to have a mother who had physically disappeared.

Q. The reader spends most of the book in the heads of Rosemarie's children and their lives. Why did you choose to give just a glimpse of what Rosemarie's life had been like since she left?

I wanted the reader to meet and see the older Rose more or less as her children did—not having been part of her life in those missing decades. I actually wrote several sections in which we are with Rose in her life in London after she goes back there. But it seemed to interrupt the narrative flow, so those sections have just been condensed into a few sentences—Rose's conversation and thoughts at the time James and Silver spend Christmas with her. Like most writers, I suppose, I know a lot more about my characters than one can possibly put down on the page—otherwise the book would go on forever!

Q. What was the process of writing Without a Backward Glance like?

I wrote all my notes on character, plot, etc. in longhand in very ordinary, lined exercise books. (I find I can't use the beautiful bound blank books or journals that caring friends give me; they feel too permanent and scary!) But I don't write much in the way of notes, though, really—just enough to get things straight in my head, then I start the actual story, always directly on my laptop. I love writing on a computer because I can change whatever I want without any hassle, and this saves me from the paralyzing anxiety of "It has to be perfect!"

With Without a Backward Glance, I broke the novel into big sections, then the sections into chapters, then the chapters into bite-size segments, each one from 500 to 1,500 words, i.e., a day's work. This made the whole immense undertaking seem manageable. (My favorite saying, not surprisingly, is "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.") I also didn't watch any TV or read any newspapers, had a miniscule social life, and, most important, I didn't allow myself to read any other books at all until I'd finished my segment for the day. This is a technique I think of as "boring myself into submission."

I'm very lucky in that I don't have to work at a day job, nor do I have young children or elderly parents to care for. When I wrote the first draft of Without a Backward Glance, I was in the perfect situation: in a rented house in the hills of central Bali, one of the most beautiful and creative places on earth. The house wasn't grand, but it was comfortable and spacious and in a lovely location, and I had staff who looked after me and the house so graciously, all for the same price that ordinary life would cost in Australia. Not surprisingly, the writing just flowed, like pouring water from a jug. I wish I could say that the same thing was happening with my second novel! But my life has become more complicated, though for very happy reasons, and the writing has come more slowly. I hope to have it finished soon!


  • About the title, Without a Backward Glance — what do you feel is the significance of someone taking "a backward glance": does it represent regret, or reflection, or something else? How important is the title of a novel to you, and what do you think of the Australian title Listen?
  • To what extent were the lives and personalities of each of the children shaped by their mother's departure and absence? Do you think they would have had similar personalities and traits if she hadn't gone?
  • Was the situation Rosemarie faced in Australia in 1967 much different from the one she would have faced if she had been living in America? Was the Australian setting an important part of the novel for you?
  • Do you believe perfect parental love exists? If so, what shape does it take?
  • Did you find Rosemarie's abandonment of her family believable? Forgivable? Why do you think a woman leaving her children is still such a taboo?
  • What might Rosemarie's life have been like if she had stayed? What sort of family do you think the McDonalds would, or could, have been?
  • There are many instances of secrecy in Without a Backward Glance. Does every family have secrets? What is their role?
  • What value does truth have to the McDonald family? What value does truth have to you?
  • Does Alex's dementia deepen the rifts between the members of his family, or draw them together? How do you think they will cope as it worsens?
  • After James finds his mother, his sexual relationship with his wife, Silver, blossoms. Why was it so lacking before this? And what was it about finding his mother that influenced such a change?
  • Why does Olivia have so few friends her own age? What do you think of this?
  • Would Angus have entered into the affair with Marion if his home circumstances had been different? Who is responsible for this—Angus? Deborah? Marion?
  • Do you think Laurence has been harmed by his mother's alcoholism?
  • Do you believe the characters in Without a Backward Glance are held accountable for their faults and misdeeds? If not, how does this make you respond?
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 21, 2011

    jersey shore

    The book seemed long and not very interesting, so many characters, one could spend to much time on that alone. I read the entire book on vacation and was waiting for it to get better, which never happened. This is her first book and wish her luck with her future books.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 24, 2008

    Loved it!

    Great first book - looking forward to more from Ms. Veitch.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 11, 2008


    A page-turner! Looking forward to a sequel! Complex characters we can all relate to. Impressive for a first-time novelist.

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  • Posted December 9, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    A winner

    On Christmas Eve 1967 in Melbourne Rosemarie McDonald tells her four preadolescent children (Deborah, Robert, James, and Meredith) she is stepping out to buy lights for the family yuletide tree. She never came home to the dismay of her four children. Instead, she flew to England her kids were raised by their father, who from that night forward pretended his wife was dead while Rosemarie never apparently took a backward glance to those she left behind who needed her.-------------- Four decades later, James meets his mother. Rosemarie who has always felt guilty about deserting her children know she must either flee into the night again or try to make amends as best as she can. Her adult children though they have families of their own never recovered from her vanishing as they learned loved ones leave and how to conceal any hurts.--------------- This family drama works because of the four adult children whose personalities differ as they coped with the abandonment in varying ways four decades later each has big relationship issues as they never recovered from their mom leaving. Rosemarie is terrific as she tries to hide her guilt and remorse from James, but fails. Although her spouse suffering from elderly dementia is somewhat removed from a confrontation with his kids and Rosemarie over welcoming back the person who betrayed them, Kate Veitch provides a strong relationship tale of a shattered family who may find it is too late to reconcile as defense mechanisms have become forty year habits.-------- Harriet Klausner

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 21, 2011

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 11, 2011

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