Blake Morrison’s previous memoirsAnd When Did You Last See Your Father? (1993) and Things My Mother Never Told Me (2002) examined his parents with the clear-eyed appraisal that only adulthood brings. In the first, he evoked the vigour of his father, Arthur: his sense of fun when rule-breaking for thrills, and the selfish entitlement which allowed him to follow his whims, oblivious of the feelings of others. The contrast between his energy when fit and his frailty when ill were stark – a dichotomy many face when a beloved parent ages and dies. The second memoir examined the life of his mother, Kim, who, like Arthur, was a doctor, but had a very different background. Both books mused on the bittersweet memories of lost times.
Now, in another engrossing story, Morrison turns his gaze on his two sisters, both dead: Gill, 16 months younger than him, and Josie, his half sister, whose biological relationship to him was only confirmed a few months before she died.
Children from dysfunctional families are often unaware of how abnormal their circumstances are. So it was in this case, when Arthur and Kim’s friendship with a pub-owning couple evolved into something much darker as a result of Arthur’s long affair with the wife – known to Morrison as ‘Auntie Beaty’. The situation was made more complex by the fact that Kim must have been aware of this, while maintaining the friendship. The girl Josie and her mother Beaty were constant presences in Morrison’s childhood, though the true relationship between them all was hidden in a web of secrets and lies, maintained for decades.
But the main focus of this latest memoir is Gill. As a child, she was not academic like her brother and was often prone to tears.