Sunday, 18 October 2009
Each family is unhappy in its own way
Lionel Shriver has written an interesting piece on the way her family reacted to a novel in which they felt they'd been portrayed unjustly. As someone who's currently working on a story that draws on my parents' early life together, I found the article fascinating and, to some extent, admonitory. But what's really interesting when reading the comments, apart from a visceral dislike of writers, is the number of people who are unhappy that Shriver's motive for writing the piece isn't clear. Is it an apology or a defence, they cry? They don't seem to want to acknowledge that states of the heart and mind might occupy neither of these positions, or might want to draw on both; might, in other words, be ambiguous in both motive and result. If that weren't the case, work like this would be rather dull, and private, however comfortably it might sit on the misery memoir shelf. What's clear is that Shriver's relation with her family, for better or worse (and it's interesting that her black sheep brother loved the novel) will never be unmediated by the fact that she writes. But surely this is obvious from the way Shriver herself, not only through her writing, is the long-term, ongoing work of someone else, the girl born into a deeply religious family in North Carolina, according to Wikipedia, who chose a man's name at the age of fifteen and now lives in London, after spells in Nairobi, Bangkok and Belfast. I wonder what Margaret Ann would think of it all.