This is the first Beryl Bainbridge novel I have read. It was only because she recently died that I thought I would give it a go. The story is about a dysfunctional lower middle class family in the 1950s, told from the point of view of one of the children, who is caused to recollect his childhood by meeting his sister some years later. The prose is very spare, yet poetic and full of telling details. The book is short, at only 150-odd pages, but you don't get the feeling that it needed to be any longer, and it's the author's ability to compress emotions and let a few words paint a detailed picture that achieve this. The characters are all highly believable, from the manic, desperate father, to the depressed, desperate mother, but it is the two children that are most skilfully depicted. The narrative really focusses on the pain of living with unhappy parents, and the different strategies that the siblings have resorted to to try to survive. Molly, the independent-minded, yet troubled girl, is absent all the time. She can't stand to be around her parents, and you can't really blame her. To her mother, who plainly sees her as her younger self, she can do no wrong. For the repressed, anxious boy, who I think is called Richard (I forget), Molly is unforgivably absent, and her attempts to assert her individuality only add fuel to the fire of his parents' madness. It's a poignant question for children: to be or not to be. Is it better to try to play along with impossible, demanding parents, or do you have a duty to act as an individual? The two siblings play out these strategies, but the reader is left to form his own conclusion, which might be that it isn't really fair to force children to make these choices at all. In any case, I will be seeking out more work by this talented and perceptive author, and I recommend that other readers give it a try.