My run of family therapy reading has continued with a lovely book that Margaret Forster describes as
'The perfect antidote to the many agonised family novels around. A pleasure to read.'
Holding My Breath by Sidura Ludwig, published by Tindle Street Press and the title alone reminded me instantly of another book I read a few years ago and I wondered if there would be a remote connection, The Water-Breather by Ben Faccini. This latter was in the days pre-blog and pre- the now very extensive scribbles that mark everything I read. But they are both about children in families learning to cope with an adult world. In the event they are not remotely similar but it all made me go and find Ben Faccini's book on the shelf and add it to my growing list of books that do a child's point of view very well.
Beth Levy is growing up in Winnipeg, Canada in the midst of a strong extended Jewish family largely made up of women, and as the future slowly unfolds it is infiltrated by a largely unspoken past and Beth has to somehow piece together what has gone on in her family down the years.
'I feel as if I have spent my life piecing things together - stories I have heard, conversations I shouldn't have. I have become my family's narrator; I take everything I know, and I make this framework of a puzzle that when completed is my family's story. (And then I guess mine.) And then I fill in the middle with my imagination, with the details no one was willing to share but need to be there for everything to make sense. Isn't that how we create modern myths ? '
Poor Beth destined to spend her days wondering what's going on and why.
There are her aunts, sisters Sarah and Carrie, like chalk and cheese and then their brother, Beth's Uncle Phil tragically killed in the Second World War but his memory largely confined to the photo albums in the basement and Carrie's evident grieving. Beth takes up the mantle of Phil's interest in astronomy much against her family's better judgement and astronomy could be seen as a theme that defines the book.
As the family grows and moves around the fixed constellations of home and tradition there is a fine blend of the predictable versus the unforeseeable, the permanent versus the transitory much like the eternal permanence but constant rearrangement of the night sky. Occasionally a comet or a shooting star whizzes in to the action to grab the attention briefly, leave its trail and disappears again as the Levy family absorb and cope with its passing and it's all a true reflection of family life. Most families do cope in this way and Margaret Forster's right, they rarely feature in fiction these days. We are conditioned to expect abuse, drama, violence and the rest.
I'm uncertain about the cover but let nothing detract from the fact that this is a well-written coming-of-age novel and a complete pleasure to read a book that offers a deeper gentler look at the simple complexities of family life. Simple from without, highly complex from within and often incredibly difficult to break away from. Beth must strive to find her own pathway through life, Goldie her mother has other ideas and the resolution is both moving and heartening as Beth's hopes at the beginning of the book are slowly fulfilled,
'Somewhere, at the end of all this, I should emerge a full and complete individual, someone sure of where she's going because she knows where she came from. This is what I'm waiting for.'