The Sunlight on the Garden: A Family in Love, War and Madness Hardcover – 3 Apr 2006
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Beautifully written -- Glamour
Extraordinary book Crisply and brilliantly depicted Acutely rational and illuminating -- Evening Standard
Spellers dry wit is a pleasure A book that explores the social quagmire of the early 20th century -- The Independent
Spellers writing style is mesmerising- by turns poetic, myth-shattering, funny and tragic -- Easy Living
About the Author
Elizabeth Speller is a poet and journalist, and has written for the Observer, Big Issue, Independent on Sunday and Woman's Journal, and appeared on Radio 4. Her previous books include Athens: A New Guide, Granta City Guides Rome, published by Granta. She lives in Gloucestershire, and is currently a Visiting Scholar at Lucy Cavendish College, Cambridge.
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Top Customer Reviews
The author is a poet and historian, and you can see both at work here: a wonderful eye for the telling detail, and a use of language which is uncannily supple and sensuous. But her own story, which lies at the book's heart, speaks to any of us who have known more than ordinary sadness. She writes both movingly and, amazingly, wittily about her descent into psychotic depression; lays to rest innumerable ignorant ghosts about madness; and surfaces triumphantly to start a new life, of which this book is just one of the fruits.
Nowhere does Speller seem to be telling the story either to big herself up ("Whose sufferings are greater than mine?") or to elicit our sympathy. What she's doing seems to be looking for the truth among the lies all families tell each other -- weaving her own story in with that of her family and that, in turn, with the times in which they lived. The result is not only the unravelling of a fascinating emotional puzzle, but a view of the last century of history from the standpoint of a single family.
A pretty crackpot family, it must be said, lousy at intimacy and the expression of love, promiscuous, minatory, snobbish, self-inventing, shot through with occasional acts of heroism or great emotional generosity.Read more ›
My better instincts were wrong and the "Independent" was dead right. One of the many joys of this book is that it is, quite simply, very funny -- in the sense of being witty about serious things. Elizabeth Speller won't play the game that says there are some subjects -- family dysfunction, war, madness (especially profound depression), divorce etc -- which need a special sombre, solemn tone of voice, like a bad ac-tor reading poetry. Her own tangled family background, her personal struggle with depressive psychosis, the collapse of the British class system, all those people (especially her mother) ripped from their homes by WW2: all these are handled with a wry but deeply humane wit which had me smiling and reaching for my handkerchief at the same time.
"The Sunlight on the Garden" is neither mawkish nor mock-heroic. I don't think it's intended to be inspiring, which is fine because I, for one, seriously hate the sort of sentimental stuff which is meant to "inspire" me. Speller instead presents an England on the cusp of great change, told in perfect miniature through her own and her family's life. It's as good a proof as any I can think of that REAL history happens on an intimate scale behind closed doors, and the great military and political events of our or any other time are insignificance before their human causes and consequences. To do that and at the same time be genuinely funny is quite an achievement.
Joan's marriage and family life was marred by severe mental problems. She was burned in an accident and spent time recovering. She was always conscience of her scars. During WW2, Joan and Eric sent Elizabeth's mother and aunt to live in South Africa. The parents separated and divorced and Joan became did war-duty with the Polish army-in-exile stationed in England. She fell in love with a Polish soldier who went back to Poland at war's end. Joan spent much of her life searching for...happiness, I suppose. She was put in a sanitarium and subjected to ECT, and, eventually, a partial lobotomy. Elizabeth, her granddaughter, born in 1951 as the oldest of three children, lived an eccentric life in 50's and 60's England. Schooled and unschooled, Elizabeth made choices that seemed not to bring her a great deal of stability.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
This is a superb book in all respects; social history, insight into the author and her wonderful command if words, as always. May she continue to write for many yearsPublished 11 months ago by GLOCKENBLAU
As a reading experience a good, well macerated memoir, where every word counts, can't be beat. This untypical Granta book - it feels more John Murray, who would have made a better... Read morePublished 15 months ago by Simon Barrett 'Il Penseroso'
Although I find her fiction spellbinding, this wasn't the case with this biography. The most interesting part for me was the description about Berlin and relationships between... Read morePublished on 21 July 2014 by M. Lewis
I bought this book by mistake having read Elizabeth Speller's Novels - which were excellent. I am not ordinarily a reader of biographical type books but, as with her novels,... Read morePublished on 2 July 2014 by T. Wagg
I was so looking forward to reading this book but found it so slow, badly written and confused that I had to check other reviews that I had read were for this book.Published on 17 Feb. 2014 by Rossie
A good story that held the imagination. The characters are all believable. This book came on time and was well packaged.Published on 30 Jan. 2013 by Helga
The reviews raved but I really did not enjoy this book and struggled to finish it. Time line and family relationships confusing and hard to follow.Published on 8 Dec. 2011 by CambridgeBlue
I can't really add much to what the other 5* reviewer has already said. I agree that this book is a wonderful read, exquisitely written. Read morePublished on 24 Aug. 2009 by E Matthew
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