Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Some Things Are Better Left Unsaid

Article excerpt


THINGS MY MOTHER NEVER TOLD ME by Blake Morrison (Chatto, pound sterling16.99) YOU would never base a novel on a character like Blake Morrison's mother.

Imagine the difficulties you would create for yourself by inventing a heroine whose primary characteristic is self-effacement. In fiction you can justify secretiveness by the promise of some revelation to come, but in real life there is often no revelation.

Many people begin by accommodating themselves to others, gently rubbing out and concealing aspects of their personality and, at the end, the concealment is part of them.

The examination of such a character shouldn't work by all the laws of narrative and surprise. What Blake Morrison has produced in Things My Mother Never Told Me - his attempt to uncover the hidden truths of his mother's life, after her death - is, on one level, a failure. She has a core of secrecy that he can't penetrate. But his book is a marvellous example of what a Zen-like act of sustained attention can do to honour and illuminate the ordinary.

By doggedly sustaining his pursuit of her, he brings her young self so alive that her maturity, ageing and death, which take only a small portion of his book, are almost shocking.

The greater part of the book is dependent on a cache of letters between Morrison's mother and father which, guiltily, Morrison sneaked from the house before his mother died, fearful that she might destroy them.

This book is a loving search by a grieving son for an understanding of a vanished mother, but it is a surgical autopsy, too.

Blake Morrison has the necessary splinter of ice in his heart that has enabled him to put both his doctor parents under the microscope. Maybe he inherited it from them.

When his father Arthur died, he wrote a similar memoir, And When Did You Last See Your Father?, as therapy, and his mother told his sister: "I could top myself because of that bloody book." As we learn that she could be seriously depressive, this probably wasn't hyperbole, but such a revelation of her feelings doesn't stop the son doing the same to her. …

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