WHY DO WE FIND FAMILIES SO FASCINATING
All writers have their particular strengths. It was inevitable, really, that mine should be writing about families.
Consider this small sample of family history. My maternal grandmother, irrespective of who was in her home used to cook naked but for a frilly apron and a pair of bedroom slippers. My sister once attacked me with a kitchen knife. My aunt eloped to Marbella with a Russian-American artist, and subsequently made her life with a professional poker player from Kenya. My French great-uncle entertained Nazi officers in his drawing-room during the war while hiding resistants and refugees in his attic, and my great-aunt once threw a television out of a top floor window during an argument. My paternal grandmother was reading War & Peace as she lay dying, tearing out pages as she went because it was too heavy, and my brother once lived in a tree-house in Africa. The best stories, for me, have always been about my family.
And I, like most – though by no means all – of the people I know, love my family. And yet, and yet… Isn’t it funny how the very people we most rely and depend on are also the people we most complain about? Who doesn’t have a parent who drives them crazy, rivalry with a sibling? I’ll bet in most families there is someone feeling put upon, overlooked or unloved. Who feels at times that they just can’t stand a sibling or a parent, an in-law or even a child, who feels offended or hurt by something someone has said. The love and support of family is a wonderful thing, but when things are not right, family can be a very lonely place. My new book, After Iris: The Diaries of Bluebell Gadsby, celebrates the love and unity of families, but it takes my characters till the last few pages to get there. For most of the book the narrator, Blue, feels completely isolated within her family. She is in deep mourning for her twin Iris, who died three years before, in essence taking Blue with her since she has not felt truly alive since.
About three years ago, my daughter became ill and we were plunged into frightening, lonely times. Parenting never felt harder or more intense, and I’m not claiming we did anything brilliantly, because we had our fair share of tears and shouting. But I do remember saying to my husband, after a particularly distressing day : “what would happen to her if we weren’t here?” The thought of her going through her illness alone made me feel physically ill. This is what I explore in After Iris. A big, rambling family, on the surface busy and exuberant, who in the face of disaster just aren’t there for each other until they learn to mourn and move on together. Because here is the thing about families, I find. Love them or hate them or love and hate them – our families make us who we are. We long to be individuals, yet we must also belong to a pack. Whether they drive us crazy, shower us with love or tear us apart, at a very fundamental level, we need our families. And that need, more than any eccentricities, is what makes them so endlessly fascinating, in fiction as in real life.
How very true Natasha. Thanks for sharing such colourful memories of your family and making us think about our own.
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