Friday, 16 March 2012

Another Great Read


I've managed to find time to read a couple of books this week and I've enjoyed them both. I wrote about Build A Man, my first brush with chick-lit, earlier in the week. Our daughter Sarah bought me The Glass Castle for Christmas and it was good to settle down and read most of it in one long session. Here's the review I posted on Amazon. It's a five star memoir.

Although ostensibly a misery memoir like 'Angela's Ashes' and 'The Road To Nab End' Jeannette Walls' 'The Glass Castle' depicts a far more upbeat view of a childhood of abject poverty than her fellow sufferers across the pond.

Brought up by a feckless alcoholic father expert in the art of the moonlight flit and an equally feckless mother who, despite having the means and qualifications to support her family chose to neglect her children to indulge her own passion for painting, you could forgive Jeannette for being bitter. But very little bitterness surfaces even though she could give The Pythons' Four Yorkshiremen a run for their money - 'you were lucky, we had to scavenge for food in the school garbage, our toilet was a bucket on the kitchen floor and I had to paint black spots on my legs to render the holes in my trousers invisible'.

The book charts Jeannette's nomadic childhood in the American West living in desert, mountains and all the terrain in between. It's written in the crisp, journalistic style of her eventual career which makes the memoir extremely readable - I finished it inside forty eight hours. But it isn't simply factual, there are some wonderful descriptive passages on the adventures that she and her brother Brian had as underdogs - the lowest of the low - in places where the whole town was at the bottom of the social scale.

Jeannette ended up living grandly on Park Avenue while her parents lived homeless on the New York streets. She writes lovingly about her father whose catch phrase "would I ever let you down?" she always responded to through gritted teeth. He comes across as a daydreamer whose grand plans never came to anything but at least he encouraged his family to read and must have had bucketfuls of charm to be painted as sympathetically as he is. Her mother is portrayed more coldly even though she, a teetotaler, suffered a life of coping with a hopeless and penniless drunk.

As an example of triumph in the face of adversity this is an uplifting book. Two of Jeannette's three siblings also appear to have survived the childhood to live lives of normality; the fate of the youngest, Maureen, is unclear and, as she grew up when her father's alcoholism was at its worst, she missed the happier times that cemented the older children's relationships and she is probably the real victim of these dreadful parents.

A wonderful book.