Sunday, May 13, 2007

Book Recommendation : Family Romance

John Lanchester's recently published memoir, Family Romance, is a powerful and moving narrative about his own family. In particular, he tells the story of his mother Julia/Julie, the arc of whose life led her from Mayo to Madras to Hong Kong to Norwich, and from postulant to nurse to nun to teacher to wife and mother. The defining moment of her life was her deceit over her age when marrying her husband Bill, and Lanchester shows how this lie seeped into and coloured all her relationships (most crucially, "if my mother had not lied, I would not have been born"). He also writes with great empathy and affection about his father.

The book has many other virtues, including its portrayal of an extended Irish family, its description of colonial lives in a post-colonial world, and its meditations on childhood and parenthood. The final subject of the book is the author himself, and especially the skeins of his own emotional DNA. Late in the book he writes that at 18 "I was about as cut off as possible from my own feelings as you can be and still be sane." This book is the constantly absorbing story of a writer who has since travelled a long way from that point and uses his skills as the writer of the novels The Debt to Pleasure, Mr Phillips and Fragrant Harbour to drive along the narrative.

You can read the opening here.

There are reviews in the Independent here, and by Blake Morrison in the Guardian here.


1 comment:

Tom C said...

Fascinating review. I read this and enjoyed it immensely - hugely impressed by the honesty and the quality of the writing