Guilty Men

Michael Neve

  • The Fate of Mary Rose by Caroline Blackwood
    Cape, 208 pp, £5.95, February 1981, ISBN 0 224 01791 8
  • Darling, you shouldn’t have gone to so much trouble by Caroline Blackwood and Anna Haycraft
    Cape, 224 pp, £6.50, November 1980, ISBN 0 224 01834 5

Philip Larkin’s lines have taken hold over the years, calling to them the confirmatory evidence of family histories, uniting disparate and apparently unconnected offspring under their aegis. Few authors in recent fiction have addressed themselves to the universal family romance with Caroline Blackwood’s bleakness. In her previous novels, The Stepdaughter and Great Granny Webster, the outlines of parental tyranny, of domination and resistance, were memorably etched. Mum and Dad could fuck you up in the simplest of ways – by simply not wanting you. These stories, which do not of course confine themselves to mums and dads, seem to have become a kind of public record: no longer ordinary fictions, however elegant, brutish and short, but something larger, with a historical reach that makes the issues of abandonment and waste something to be answered within the community, and not merely half-remembered at the novel’s close. Whose children are they, in the end, these orphans, fictional and yet also real presences? She seems to be writing a history of the family, but one that is not confined to History.

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