Books about new be­gin­nings

The Guardian - Review - - Further Reading - Amy Lip­trot

Tales of re­cov­ery and of new be­gin­nings – from Cin­derella to A Christ­mas Carol or Matt Haig’s re­cent best­seller Rea­sons to Stay Alive – are pow­er­fully at­trac­tive. They lead us to be­lieve that we can make things afresh and, at the start of a new year, that is what we need.

I had a baby last Christ­mas and sub­se­quently much of my read­ing over the year has been about be­com­ing a par­ent. Me­moirs by Rachel Cusk, Anne En­right and Rivka Galchen all have pas­sages of in­sight and iden­ti­fi­ca­tion but the best was Ex­pect­ing by Scot­tish jour­nal­ist Chi­tra Ra­maswamy, on preg­nancy, her own and in lit­er­a­ture. She’s a beau­ti­ful writer and this book – which moves from an Ed­in­burgh loo, through Sylvia Plath and Su­san Son­tag, to the He­brides, to Anna Karen­ina , to the birthing pool and op­er­at­ing the­atre – was my trea­sured com­pan­ion in the early se­cre­tive days of preg­nancy; it re­as­sured me that you can make the move into moth­er­hood without los­ing your in­tel­lect. I’ll be giv­ing copies to ex­pec­tant friends.

The other ex­cel­lent par­ent­ing ti­tle I read was psy­chol­o­gist Charles Ferny­hough’s The Baby in the Mir­ror , in which he closely ob­serves the first three years of his daugh­ter’s life and com­bines this with what is known sci­en­tif­i­cally about child devel­op­ment. I par­tic­u­larly en­joyed a de­con­struc­tion of a game of I-spy.

I only came to the Pa­trick Mel­rose nov­els, the first of which were pub­lished in the 1990s, af­ter watch­ing the ex­cel­lent 2018 TV adap­ta­tion, but Never Mind by Ed­ward St Aubyn is bril­liant: he has such a sin­gu­lar voice – ter­ri­fy­ing and pierc­ingly funny. I’m fas­ci­nated with the shad­ows that child­hood can cast, ex­plored in this case through the abuse of Mel­rose, a cipher for St Aubyn. It shows how the build­ing blocks of a per­son­al­ity are laid and has an un­beat­able ear for the par­tic­u­lar wrong-headed at­ti­tudes and mon­strous char­ac­ters of its up­per­class set­ting – laced with a com­pli­cated af­fec­tion for them.

An­other novel, more re­cently pub­lished, is

All Among the Bar­ley by Melissa Har­ri­son, set in 1933 in a ru­ral East Anglian com­mu­nity, look­ing at what led to the be­gin­ning of the se­cond world war. “Farm­ing, folk­lore and fas­cism” is how the au­thor her­self flip­pantly de­scribes it. It is pre­cise and mov­ing on agri­cul­tural prac­tices and tra­di­tion, and the nat­u­ral world, in­clud­ing a sub­plot about the en­dan­gered corn­crake. Pro­tag­o­nist Edie is at the be­gin­ning of adult­hood and ne­go­ti­at­ing her choices, with temp­ta­tion from the glam­orous Con­stance FitzAllen, a dan­ger­ously al­lur­ing char­ac­ter.

In 2019 I will cel­e­brate eight years sober. In The Re­cov­er­ing: In­tox­i­ca­tion and its Af­ter­math, Les­lie Jami­son, one of the most ac­com­plished and chal­leng­ing es­say­ists around, ex­plores the topic at (quite some) length. It is not your aver­age re­cov­ery mem­oir. Any­one con­sid­er­ing us­ing the new year as a prompt to change their drink­ing habits will find much to con­sider here. Jami­son fights, as I have, to write about what comes af­ter get­ting sober – not the drunken back­story but the re­al­ity of a pos­i­tive new start: “I’d al­ways been en­thralled by sto­ries of wreck­age. But I wanted to know if sto­ries about get­ting bet­ter could ever be as com­pelling as sto­ries about fall­ing apart. I needed to be­lieve they could.”

Amy Lip­trot’s The Out­run is pub­lished by Canon­gate.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from UK

© PressReader. All rights reserved.