Top positive review
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An intriguing but affectionate memoir
on 19 July 2007
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.