Self-Contained

Tessa Hadley

  • Feed My Dear Dogs by Emma Richler
    Fourth Estate, 502 pp, £17.99, January 2005, ISBN 0 00 718985 0

We’re encouraged by the Romantics and the Freudians to think that childhood is when we are most ‘natural’ and least broken-in to cultural norms. However, in childhood we are also most intensely subject to the familial culture which surrounds us; the world can be interpreted only in the language and according to the value system we are given by parents and relatives and at school. Emma Richler’s new novel, Feed My Dear Dogs, and her earlier work, Sister Crazy (2001), capture vividly the closed world of one family. In the middle of both books the family moves from 1960s England to Montreal, but our attention isn’t drawn to the change and it is evident only in a few externals: in Canada there is ice hockey, a second home by a lake, and French spoken. The cultural life of a family may be so self-contained and self-referential that it can be transplanted into another continent and the difference will scarcely show.

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