An intriguing story of an ordinary family. Emily, a special needs teacher, and Don, who is a picture framer, are moderately happy in a moderately pleasant home on the outskirts of Bath where they bring up their four children in a moderately capable fashion. Liz, the eldest, is confident and pragmatic, Clive, mercurial and damaged, Lotte, nervous and shy, and Benjamin is the late arrival.
There are no terrible traumas, horrific events or violent feuds. The story unfolds as a series of vignettes. It is as if you are looking through a photo album containing snapshots of family events taken over the course of several decades, with various family members coming to sit beside you to share their experience of an occasion which had a particular significance for them - the acquisition of a spin drier, a holiday in France, a child setting off for university. Thus the intricacies of family life are exposed, the strengths and flaws, the joys, hurts, rejections, loneliness, affection, differences and acceptance. As the children grow up and leave home their comings and goings and their parents' reminiscences continue to weave a complex and fascinating pattern. Eventually the family comes together again when Emily is dying in a care home, her mind fragmented by dementia.
Although this book is utterly compelling, you will not want to gobble it up in one sitting. It is so beautifully written that you will want to savour each sentence. The events may seem prosaic, but they are exquisitely portrayed and the characters developed with an honesty that is both unflinching and tender so that you will be amused and irritated by turn, but ultimately your heart will ache for them. Definitely a book to keep and reread, but also to share - simply so you can have the pleasure of discussing it with someone.