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Family Romance: A Memoir Hardcover – 5 Apr 2007

24 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Faber and Faber; 1st edition edition (5 April 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0571234402
  • ISBN-13: 978-0571234400
  • Product Dimensions: 14.4 x 3.3 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (24 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 792,093 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"While Lanchester's parentage and transient childhood in the 'hybrid, postcolonial-to-capitalist bubble' are far from ordinary, his insight into the nature of families, their secrets and their sacrifices strike universal chords in this lovingly told account of how one storyteller came to be." - "Publisher's Weekly" "From the Hardcover edition."

Book Description

Family Romance, by John Lanchester, is an astonishing true story of family secrets stretching around the world and through three generations, by the bestselling author of Capital and Fragrant Harbour.

--This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Thomas Cunliffe TOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 19 July 2007
Format: Hardcover
I do not usually read family sagas, but was drawn to this one as I was already a fan of John Lanchester's novels, particularly the wonderful Debt To Pleasure. I was not disappointed because this book is a wonderful read and draws the reader in to the labyrinthine history of his parents (and grandparent's) lives. Lanchester's task is made easier because his parents had interesting lives, his mother being a Catholic nun until the age of 38, and his father having been brought up former British colonies and taking up a career in international banking.

At least the first half of the book is taken up with the individual life-stories of his grandparents and parents, including a fascinating description of paternal grand-parents internment in Hong Kong during World War II. Perhaps the major part of this section is the story of his mother's childhood and youth, leading to her time in the convent - not a happy experience at any time as far as one can see. At least she managed to escape at the age of 38 and meet John Lanchester's father-to-be, to enjoy a reasonably happy and fulfilling marriage thereafter, if one based on a certain number of "secret's and lies" which Lanchester slowly uncovers during the second half of the book.

Needless to say, the book is thoroughly well-written and draws the reader along from page to page. I particularly like the many photographs which are dotted about among the text, somewhat in the style of W G Sebald's books. Personally I think this works better than having a separate glossy section of photographs in the middle of the book.

John Lanchester takes a charitable view of his parents' lives, even where there was cause for criticism. His forgiving approach makes this a pleasant book to read, despite some of the darker events which he has to describe. I enjoyed reading it and would recommend it highly to anyone who has had enough of the glut of lightweight biographies to be seen on the supermarket shelves.
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9 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Jeremy W. Tait on 7 Feb. 2010
Format: Paperback
As a "Hong Kong Belonger" and a Gweilo who served in the same bank and at the same time as the author's father Bill, I was looking forward with great anticipation to reading John Lanchester's epic book on his family, and I was not to be disappointed. The early part of the book, which deals mainly with John's mother and her background, is cleverly constructed and it sets the scene for what is to follow. I was somewhat naturally more interested in the descriptions of Hong Kong, Calcutta and Hamburg and how the Bank's traditions there affected the family of one of its Foreign Staff officers, and not only did I find the narrative to be accurate but it also took me back in time and enabled me to relive many of my own experiances which are contained in another book "The Obedient Banker". John Lanchester has a unique style in the presentation of his text and I can strongly recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in the Far East.
Jeremy Tait
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By CC on 4 Jan. 2012
Format: Hardcover
John Lanchester's description of his mother's life in particular is so grounded in the reality (rather than the caricature) of Irish rural life and the religious life from the 1920s -40s, that it is, in and of itself, an example of how biography can double as excellent social history. Julia Gunnigan was first a Good Shepherd postulant, then a 'daughter at home', then a nurse, then engaged, then a Presentation missionary nun, then a wife and mother. Belonging as I do to the fourth (maybe even the fifth) generation of my family to produce Presentation nuns, missionary and domestic, I fully appreciated her story as a religious and I am so glad that Lanchester went to the considerable trouble of understanding what was attractive (fulfilling work, personal authority, expertise, companionship) as well as unattractive (lack of personal freedom, having to submit to male authority) in the religious life. His understanding of the lives of medium-sized struggling-but-not-poor farming people in Mayo in the 1920s-40s is really good as well. He makes no generalizations and no claims to universality. This is a book to treasure.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Jude on 8 Nov. 2012
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This book has made an enormous impression on me, it describes events and an era in recent history that in themselves are fascinating without the extraordinary individuals at the centre of the story, I will have to re-read it again soon, but more slowly this time as I was too anxious to see what would happen next and want the opportunity to absorb any details I may have missed.
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23 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Mrs. R. B. L. Clarke on 21 Mar. 2007
Format: Hardcover
In the absence of siblings and peers, John Lanchester learnt to live in his own head. Reading has been his one great bond with his English culture. His observations have been made in an elegant millefeuille style of writing, with the references to what Conrad, Auden et al, wrote on the concept. Rubber necking my way through the ideas I emerged triumphant, but with a list of further reading. [A perfect introduction to literature.] His Mother's story is for me the most fascinating facet of his book. Like so many Irish families the Gunnigans were harnessed to the brutal yoke of repression. The Irish Catholic Church demanded obedience. Here as a child of a formidable Irish Mother he excavates her story. He is justifiably incredulous, as to real reasons his mother buried her true identity and borrowed another's. He sets about unpicking her life with the dedication of a conservator in the V&A's ancient costumes department. In terms of sheer empathy for, the reasons, the whys and the wherefores, he as good as dons the costume too. Rare, but real glimpses into the off-limits territory of a nun's world are provided. Yet he elegantly side-steps irony, the preferred partner for any personal, or potentially painful recollections. A voice that demands your attention.
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