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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a challenge
The blurb on the back cover by Margaret Drabble is simultaneously accurate and horribly misjudged. She is quoted as describing the Blackburn's parents as "wonderful, dangerous, bohemian and eccentric". In this, she captures the flavour of Blackburn's own attitude. But from the testimony Blackburn herself provides, it's clear that the reality was much darker. Her father...
Published on 2 Dec 2011 by Tarkus

versus
2.0 out of 5 stars Too intense
Persevered with this book but had to give up and gave it away. Too relationship analytical and self centered for my taste.
Published 19 months ago by Jennifer Western


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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars a challenge, 2 Dec 2011
By 
This review is from: The Three of Us: A Family Story (Paperback)
The blurb on the back cover by Margaret Drabble is simultaneously accurate and horribly misjudged. She is quoted as describing the Blackburn's parents as "wonderful, dangerous, bohemian and eccentric". In this, she captures the flavour of Blackburn's own attitude. But from the testimony Blackburn herself provides, it's clear that the reality was much darker. Her father was physically violent towards her mother, and later, distracted and unengaged, too absorbed in his own difficulties to support his daughter. Her mother, meanwhile, was emotionally abusive and encouraged a variety of men in their sexually predatory advances towards the young Julia.

Both parents had reasons in their own distorted and abusive childhoods. Her father, additionally, was prone to deep depressions and self medicated with prodigious quantities of alcohol and prescription drugs. But reasons are not excuses. And the fact that these adults were well-connected "artists" does not make their behaviour any more forgivable. In this context, "Bohemian" and "eccentric" is a grotesque euphemism.

By the time I had reached the half-way point of the book, I was finding that I had gone from thinking, "How interesting - how's this going to work out?" to, "Oh no - please don't do that...ah, too late".

Blackburn makes it clear that, by the end of her mother's life, they had reached a rapprochement. But the fact that this seemed to require her mother's forgiveness felt deeply wrong; a further refinement of the distortions that she had suffered all her life.

In the end, whilst admiring her style, and pleased that she has found some kind of peace, I felt somehow uneasy about accepting Blackburn's resolution; as if I was colluding in an injustice.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A seriously messed up family, 11 Aug 2009
By 
E. Ford (Essex) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Three of Us: A Family Story (Paperback)
A terrific read. There's not a great deal of action in this book. No adventures or surprises but it's about the everyday experiences of a very messed up family. Julia Blackburn's parents are pretty strange and then we meet the grandparents!!! It's all about looking in on someone's life and finding that you want to know all the sordid details and how it all turns out. The author doesn't hold anything back.

I think Julia Blackburn has a very accessible style of writing and I am looking forward to reading more from her.

Please also see my review of "With Billie".
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars too much too young, 5 Jun 2013
This review is from: The Three of Us (Hardcover)
On the face of it Julia's upbringing seems priveledged and very liberal but as the reader gets deeper into her story it's clear that too much of a good thing can be just as damaging as deprivation.

From page one I was hooked on this story. I loved the black humour, the evocative descriptions of time and place and the loving yet truthful way Julia brings her past and most particularly her parents and their social circle to life on each page.

I will definately be reading more by this talented author.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Literary Misery Memoir, 12 May 2009
By 
Paul N. Newman (St Austell, Cornwall) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Three of Us: A Family Story (Paperback)
It's not really how I headed it, a misery memoir, for it is in places bitterly hilarious. Thomas Blackburn was a distinguished poet, well worth reading, and his daughter Julia, the author of this present memoir, an accomplished and rather classy novelist. After reading her father's slightly outrageous autobiography 'A Clip of Steel' - named after an anti-excitement-in-the-night device that his father commanded him to wear - I devoured this book. Witty, riveting, with lots of charged and frank sexuality and unrivalled in its scope and poetry.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Honest and Intriguing, 8 Dec 2014
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Mr. D. James "nonsuch" (london, uk) - See all my reviews
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This review is from: The Three of Us: A Family Story (Paperback)
Blackburn, Julia. The Three of Us: A Family Story

After the seductively gentle title Julia Blackburn at once plunges the reader into the hard facts of her father’s drug addiction, which, combined with alcohol, ‘made him increasingly violent and so mad that he began to growl and bark like a dog.’ The tone is bleak and factual, but not devoid of humour, for Thomas Blackburn, teacher and poet, ‘was tried out on all sorts of substitute pills, including one which he proudly said was used to traquillize rhinoceroses.’ Despite his furious rages - one of which led him to attack his wife with a carving knife - Thomas maintains a relaxed and benign attitude to his daughter. Young Julia is always the piggy-in-the middle, while her mother, Rosalie, a painter and bohemian socialite, after divorcing Thomas, takes in a series of male lodgers. The story of Julia’s relationship with her mother and the lodgers takes up most of the book.

The book is multi-layered, having at least three perspectives - Julia as a child, as a young woman and in maturity as a comforter to her dying mother. In addition the story embraces extracts from Julia’s note books, diaries and text messages sent mainly to her husband whom she regularly updates on her mother’s seemingly slow demise.
The central relationship, however, is between mother and daughter, Rosalie being unkind and unfair to her surviving daughter (the complex reasons for this are adumbrated in the retrospective chapter ‘The Story of Boonie and Tuggie’). Clearly there is jealousy on the mother’s part, for having schooled her daughter in the act of sex, when the mature lodger Gerald takes a fancy to the teenager the mother loses her mind. But Rosalie is soon on the decline, no longer able to charm the young men and, sadly, stricken with cancer.

Perhaps the one weakness of the book is the author’s determination to have a happy ending. Rosalie must die happy (she refuses treatment) and in this she is supported by her daughter. The horrors of the book are in part alleviated by the growing friendship between the mature woman and her decrepit mother. Maybe I’m cynical but I felt I was being manipulated into accepting their reconciliation. We are not told of Rosalie’s conflicts, left alone as she is in hospital for most of the day. Instead our attention is diverted back to the almost forgotten Thomas - a marvellous portrait, by the way, who would dominate any novel - and his serio-comic ending with a heart attack as he attempts to climb into bed.

This apart, the memoir is everything one might wish for - scrupulous honesty, lack of self-pity, characters galore and, for those who need it, a message of hope.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Bohemian Misery and Eventual Redemption, 5 Mar 2012
By 
Kate Hopkins (London) - See all my reviews
(TOP 1000 REVIEWER)   
This review is from: The Three of Us: A Family Story (Paperback)
When you hear about some people's childhoods, you wonder how they've remained sane. Julia Blackburn is a highly intelligent novelist and biographer, in a happy second marriage, with a good relationship with her children. This, considering her own upbringing, is somewhat of a miracle. Blackburn was the child of two bohemian parents, who gathered round the crowd in Soho in the 1950s - her father was, briefly, Francis Bacon's lover (despite being heterosexual). Both Blackburn's father, poet and teacher Thomas Blackburn, and her mother, painter Rosalie de Meric, had had appallingly unhappy childhoods themselves. Although they shared a love of the arts and of mountaineering, the marriage began to have problems very early on, and neither could save the other from their private miseries. Thomas, an alcoholic with an addiction to tranquillizers, was compulsively unfaithful and sometimes violent - Julia Blackburn remembers running away with her mother on a night that her father came home in the mood for a fight, and another time when he chased Rosalie round the table with a carving knife shouting 'you are the angel of death and I must kill you'. Rosalie, though less obviously crazy, was obsessed with sex. She talked about her sexual habits and needs openly with her daughter and, after she and Thomas had separated and when Julia was in her teens and a very beautiful young girl, started letting rooms to male lodgers hoping that they'd be drawn to the house by Julia, and that then she, Rosalie, could seduce them. Inevitably this scheme went horribly wrong when one of Rosalie's lodgers tired of her and turned his attentions to Julia. Rosalie tried to distract Julia with another lodger, a handsome Dutchman, which led to further complications. It was only years later, when Rosalie was dying of leukaemia, that she and Julia became easy with each other again.

Julia Blackburn tells the dramatic and often shocking story of her family life somewhat wryly, without melodrama and without a trace of self-pity. She writes very movingly of how, as a middle-aged woman, she became a good friend of her mother after years of tension. She is also amusing - even if the subject-matter is somewhat frightening at times - about her mother's sexual intrigues and Thomas Blackburn's massive drinking binges and colossal self-absorption (though he clearly loved his daughter very much in his own way). She also writes wisely about her own love affairs and how messy they got - her on-off love affair with Herman, the Dutchman who she left for her mother's ex-lover, got back together with again, left again, and finally met again in middle age, and about her unhappy affair with her mother's ex-lover Geoffrey. There are also some lighter moments to the book - lovely descriptions of landscapes and of animals. The family loved animals and there are some particularly good ones that crop up every now and then in this book. My only criticism is that Blackburn doesn't tell us all that much about her later life. I'd have liked to know more about her time at university (she studied long distance most of the time, commuting to the University of York from a flat in London), about her first marriage and her experiences as a mother, and about how she earned her living before her writing career began (and indeed, how she still does - her books have all had critical acclaim and sold all right but she's not, I think, quite on the bestseller lists yet). I'm wondering if I'll find out more about Blackburn's life in 'Thin Paths', her latest, which I purchased recently.

All in all a very brave, very interesting, sometimes sad and sometimes very funny memoir. Five stars!
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2.0 out of 5 stars Too intense, 14 May 2013
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This review is from: The Three of Us (Hardcover)
Persevered with this book but had to give up and gave it away. Too relationship analytical and self centered for my taste.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Lovely honest book, 17 Mar 2013
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This review is from: The Three of Us: A Family Story (Paperback)
Fantastic book - charts the history of the writer's family and her often turbulent relationship with her unorthodox parents. Written with honsty and charm I found myself totally engaged with her experiences. Her parents seem like rather trying people at times; I have to say I admired the writer's patience!
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5.0 out of 5 stars Harrowing and uplifting, 24 May 2011
By 
Walter Fane (Shanghai, China) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Three of Us: A Family Story (Paperback)
It has the peace and clarity that often mark those who have been through suffering and come out the other side. The author's honesty, acceptance and humour while recounting some terrible events inspired respect and reverence in me. Julia Blackburn reminds us that, whatever has happened to us and whatever our mind has made of it, forgiveness and the unconditional love that are our birthright are always there to be reclaimed.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very good memoir, 2 May 2011
By 
If Only You Knew (Stroud, Gloucestershire) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Three of Us: A Family Story (Paperback)
This is a very well written book about an appalling family. It is also a very sad book as we watch a young woman try to find a path for herself despite the fact that she has been given no proper preparation for life at all. We long for her to break away from her family and refuse the role they have created for her - but, of course, she doesn't. The book raises many interesting questions about family and relationships. I certainly recommend it.
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The Three of Us: A Family Story
The Three of Us: A Family Story by Julia Blackburn (Paperback - 7 May 2009)
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