Magazine article The Spectator

The Return of the Native

Magazine article The Spectator

The Return of the Native

Article excerpt

The return of the native THE PROMISE OF HAPPINESS by Justin Cartwright Bloomsbury, £16.99, pp. 307, ISBN 0747570345

'When you look at families, there is no such thing as normal.' Indeed not. Justin Cartwright gives us the Judds, an apparently ordinary English middle-class family, and examines their response to a private catastrophe. The book begins as Juliet Judd, eldest child and 'prodigal daughter', is released from prison in America. She has been locked up for two years, jailed for selling a valuable stained-glass window which she knew to be stolen. Juliet's prison sentence cast her whole family into a state of suspended emotional animation from which they now begin to stir, as Juliet makes her way home.

This awakening is a painful process. Juliet's father, Charles, is bewildered by the turn of events which landed his favourite child in an American jail. He has never addressed his daughter's culpability; believing himself to be a moral man, he is unable to accept that he brought up a daughter who could commit such a crime. Angry with Juliet and ashamed of himself, but incapable of admitting either emotion, 'for more than two years he has been barely alive'. Daphne, Juliet's mother, assumes a more straightforward role: 'she is trying to put down roots, but her children are scattered and her husband is distracted'. She now discovers, to her relief, that a parent's work is never done: 'The children have been my life's work,' she reflects, 'and it seems that is not over.' Her husband may treat her with dismissive hostility, but she can still make herself useful as a mother.

Their son Charlie is bringing Juliet home. Charming and successful, he appears the most fully-fledged family member. Yet Charlie too is in freefall: his glamorous girlfriend, whom he knows he doesn't love, is pregnant. He 'can't shake his unease' about becoming a father, but nonetheless attempts to dismiss his reservations as 'unworthy' and allows his mother to plan an elaborate wedding for him. …

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