British writer Blackburn (My Animals & Other Family, 2007, etc.) recalls an atypical upbringing.
Commendably, she manages to find riotous humor in the erratic, often hurtful behavior she endured throughout her peculiar childhood. When she once asked her mother, a painter named Rosalie, what piles were, Rosalie simply bent over and showed her exactly what they looked like. Blackburn’s father, an alcoholic writer named Thomas, divorced Rosalie when their daughter was 12. Despite the title, the memoir primarily focuses on the author’s decaying relationship with her mother, drawing on Blackburn’s razor-sharp memory and youthful diary entries. The first signs of trouble in her parents’ marriage came when her father began an affair with the Irish painter Francis Bacon. This event, like others in the book, is recalled in an explosive and richly descriptive fashion. Encounters with her parents were frequently marked by lewd and suggestive remarks on such topics as Blackburn’s breasts, the loss of her virginity and her mother’s graphically described sexual exploits. Rosalie raised Julia following the divorce, and much of the narrative depicts the eccentric behavior she inflicted on her daughter and a succession of lodgers. Indeed, the lodgers played a large role in the battle between mother and daughter, with many of them becoming objects of desire for both. At one point, Blackburn began an affair with her mother’s lover, a much older man named Geoffrey, and ultimately moved in with him, creating a huge schism with Rosalie. Later chapters recount Geoffrey’s suicide and her father’s worsening alcoholism and death in 1977. Throughout the book, each chapter concludes with faxes to the author’s now-husband describing moments in her mother’s terminal decline and death in 1999.
A real page-turner, full of incredible, horrifying tales enveloping readers in Blackburn’s tumultuous existence.