Books Magazine

The Rules of Inheritance by Claire Bidwell Smith

By Lizzi @lizzi_thom
UK cover. Image:

UK cover. Image:

This is one of those books that a lot of people talked about, and that got (and is still getting) a lot of media attention. You’ll find Claire Bidwell Smith in magazines and newspapers talking about her book and the experiences that she writes about. It is also getting a lot of attention because there is talk of a film adaptation starring our lady of the moment Jennifer Lawrence. This is no bad thing, but very often this kind of extensive media coverage and praise can affect your view of a book before you read it. Why all the hype? Is it really that good? And also, what is it about this book that is getting people’s attention? Why do people want to talk about it?

Sometimes things are popular because they are ‘of the moment’, but not necessarily because they are good. I was concerned this was the case with The Rules of Inheritance. I received it unannounced and thought ‘why the hell not’, but went into it knowing that it may well turn out to be either over-hyped or some kind of misery memoir. Luckily it is neither.

Though you may not have heard of her prior to this book, Claire Bidwell Smith is a writer through and through. It may not always have been her career, but she is a writer. She has a natural way of putting words together that is both engaging and engulfing – from a couple of pages in, you are in her world. And in her mind; a lot of this book is about her own ‘personal journey’ which sounds corny but is actually more of a psychological look-back at her youth, and how she dealt with the crushing blows of both her parents’ deaths.

As we get older we all worry about our parents, as they get older, but we also worry about ourselves. No matter how old or ‘adult’ we get, we still worry – what we will do without them? Who will we call when we need that unique comfort? Who will be able to hug us like no one else? Who will take care of us? These questions exist in the back of all our minds, though we may not confront them often. But they all exist; especially when we have seen our grandparents grow old and pass away. We see how it affects our parents, even though they are grown-ups, they are our mums and dads – surely they can handle everything?

Claire Bidwell Smith never had to wonder. Her mother died when she was 18 – something I cannot even imagine. At 18 we are not yet fully formed, we are still rebelling and being useless. Bidwell Smith was away at university, and her mother’s death had an incredible impact on her entire life – as well as her relationship with her father, as she watched him be the carer, the one in charge. Without her mother she was cast adrift, lost within her own grief. She bonded with her father during this time, but they both had to mourn in their own ways.

Her father died when she was in her mid-twenties, despite having been diagnosed with cancer before her mother. Though her mother’s death was heart-breaking, her father’s is more drawn out, and this time she is the one responsible for the dying relative. During this section of the book my admiration grew for Claire Bidwell Smith. Though she had older half-siblings, she dealt with her father’s decline almost entirely on her own. She probably took on too much (this is very easy to do), and though this is incredibly giving, it is not entirely selfless. She needs to take care of him to know that she was a good daughter and did everything she could; to know that he did not die for nothing, and that he knew that she loved him.

This is of course a very moving book, and there were moments when I welled up. Our deep need and love for our parents is something we all share, and something we can all relate to in Claire Bidwell Smith’s story. She in honest and unflinching, and utterly prepared to peel back the layers and examine both herself and those around her. Her story is not always happy, but it is never defeatist or miserable, and her bravery is uplifting. The Rules of Inheritance can sometimes be a bit hard going, as the young Claire suffers through her grief and depression, but luckily as she comes out the other side we are there with her, finally letting go.


Published in March 2014 by Headline (UK). My copy was kindly provided by the publisher for review. Visit Claire’s blog and website (where she talks about her experiences as well as grief therapy) here.

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