Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

What Happens When You Find out Your Dad's Not Who You Think He Is?

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

What Happens When You Find out Your Dad's Not Who You Think He Is?

Article excerpt

Byline: CLAIRE HARMAN

FATHERS by Sam Miller (Cape, PS14.99) WHEN Karl Miller died in 2014 friends and colleagues leapt to describe what an impact he had had on the literary culture of his day, both as an academic and as founding editor of the London Review of Books. His bon mots, putdowns and strong opinions were laid before us lovingly: this was a man who inspired admiration and affection in equal measure.

He was a difficult man to have as a father, though, with that intimidating intellect and dominant hand. One of the many things that his second child Sam, a journalist and writer, misses is Karl's imprimatur on "almost every word" of his own writing, but how usual is it, one might wonder, for an adult son to welcome that sort of control? Miller's filial devotion has an obsessive edge.

Plagued by remorse at not attending his father's deathbed, he rather creepily listened in by phone from abroad to "small cries of anguish from my mother" punctuating the sickroom sounds. On his return home he demanded private time with the corpse to deliver a prepared speech, including a jokey address and slightly ponderous thanks: "So many parents have a relationship that is grounded in some sense of duty, and it never felt thus for you and me."

By this point in the story we know there's a secret because Miller keeps telling us: "I am withholding some important information for the time being. I've decided I need to do this, to tell the story properly, but it makes me self-conscious as I write. Bear with me." When we are told, 80 pages in, that Sam was not Karl's son but the child of one of his father's best friends from Cambridge, Tony White, it's hard to remember to be amazed.

The staggeringly handsome and charismatic White remained close to both Miller parents before and after the affair which led to baby Sam. …

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