AND WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE YOUR FATHER? by Blake Morrison
Kirkus Star

AND WHEN DID YOU LAST SEE YOUR FATHER?

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KIRKUS REVIEW

British poet and literary editor of the Sunday Independent, Morrison records in stark and beautiful prose the ugly details of his father's slow death from stomach cancer. To the embarrassment of his wife and children, Dr. Arthur Morrison impatiently cut ahead in lines, delighted in beating the ticket-taker at the racetrack or golf course, and, a zestful do-it-yourselfer, pinched pennies on building a new house or putting in the garden. His son dreaded camping trips: Ill-planned, they usually ended at the nearest pub, his father chatting up the locals and, as was his habit, drinking far too much. The mystery of his decades-long relationship with ""Aunt"" Beaty -- a ""friend"" of the family scarcely tolerated by Mummy -- remains a nagging question. Yet when his father takes sick at age 75, the most disturbing thing is to see him depressed: ""I want him to be dead rather than die like this."" Morrison doesn't spare the reader, or himself, any intimate or unpleasant detail of the sickness: the ""railway track"" stitched on his father's bloated belly; his inability to urinate and the current state of his penis; the smells and stains on the bedclothes. When he dies, ""he is dead -- no rage against the dying of the light, no terror or delirium, only a night-light smothered in its own wax."" Then, morbidly, the author repeatedly examines the corpse as it lies at home awaiting cremation. Morrison, who admits to becoming a ""death bore"" to his friends, has a purpose in relating all this: He heartrendingly pins down ""the last moment when [his father] was still unmistakably there,"" that last instant before illness transformed his robust, idiosyncratic father into a sick, dying old man. At times wretchedly disturbing, but resurrected by Morrison's graceful writing and eloquent frankness.

Pub Date: June 12th, 1995
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Picador/St. Martin's