Did You Ever Have A Family? by Bill Clegg

imageOn the morning of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s house goes up in flames, destroying her entire family – her present, her past and her future. Fleeing from the carnage, stricken and alone, June finds herself in a motel room by the ocean, hundreds of miles from her Connecticut home, held captive by memories and the mistakes she has made with her only child, Lolly, and her partner, Luke. In the turbulence of grief and gossip left in June’s wake we slowly make sense of the unimaginable. The novel is a gathering of voices, and each testimony has a new revelation about what led to the catastrophe – Luke’s alienated mother Lydia, the watchful motel owners, their cleaner Cissy, the teenage pothead who lives nearby – everyone touched by the tragedy finds themselves caught in the undertow, as their secret histories finally come to light. 

This is one of those books that I probably wouldn’t have read if it wasn’t a bookclub selection, and which I entered into with some trepidation. The blurb didn’t exactly appeal to my normal literary tastes. It struck me as a book my mother would enjoy, not me. I like it a book proves me wrong.

Grief is a funny thing. It effects people in different ways depending on their relationship to the person involved. A death, or indeed a serious illness, sends out a ripple effect through everyone connected to a person. Those closest will be hit hardest, but even those further out will be affected, sometimes in surprising ways. While their are many books which explore grief, there are few I’ve come across which examine it in this multifaceted way. Generally the focus is on one specific individual, instead we get the few from a whole host of characters. Some characters we will only see once, others the book returns to again and again, slowly building up a picture of them and how they slowly find a way to cope. The final result is a realistic portrayal of grief and coming to terms with a tragic event.

It seems wrong to say I enjoyed this book. It just isn’t a book where words like “enjoy” seem appropriate, but for lack of a better word we’ll go with enjoy. I would highly recommend this book to everyone, even those who aren’t sure if it sounds like their thing.


5 star

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