Saturday, 18 September 2010

Divided memories

I haven't read Rupert Thomson's This Party's Got to Stop yet. Though it mainly seems to deal with the author's relationship with his brothers, the book's roots lie in the deaths of the siblings' parents. The early death of his mother is something he worked through in part in novel Divided Kingdom, which tackled major state-of-the-nation themes with a drastic reordering of the country.

Citizens are moved into different quarters of Britain according to personality type (sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic, the four ancient humours). What proved so powerful to me was the description of young central character Thomas Parry's relocation from his family; it reminded me of my own removal to boarding school when my father suddenly died and must have been based on Thomson's own experiences following his mother's death.

I mentioned this similarity to him, and how evocative I'd found the description of Parry's life and emotions at this point, and Thomson generously said the book could almost have been written for me. He also recommended I read William Maxwell's So Long, See You Tomorrow, which deals with the effect of a parent's death on a boy of a similar age.

Maxwell couches his tale in a form closer to Truman Capote's In Cold Blood - historical reconstruction almost. An extremely short book, it drips in concentrated memory and can only be experienced in bursts. I'm having a similar experience at the moment with Tinkers, a Pulitzer Prize-winning novella by Paul Harding about a father and son's histories that is incredibly dense.

Thomas Parry, when he grows up, has a chance to revisit the past in Divided Kingdom, and the memories that were lost by wrenching him from the heart of his family. Would you take such an opportunity? Thomson asked me. He knew the answer, but you'll always wonder how things were.

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