flesh woundsIN BRIEF:

Funny, and at times heart-breaking, this is a memoir of one man’s efforts to understand why his parents didn’t love him in the way they should have. 

Details, Details:

ISBN: 9780733334320
ISBN 10: 0733334326
Imprint: ABC Books – AU
On Sale: 01/09/2015
Pages: 304
List Price: 29.99 AUD

What the back cover says:

Richard Glover’s favourite dinner party game is called ‘Who’s Got the Weirdest Parents?’. It’s a game he always thinks he’ll win. There was his mother, a deluded snob, who made up large swathes of her past and who ran away with Richard’s English teacher, a Tolkien devotee, nudist and stuffed-toy collector. There was his father, a distant alcoholic, who ran through a gamut of wives, yachts and failed dreams. And there was Richard himself, a confused teenager, vulnerable to strange men, trying to find a family he could belong to. As he eventually accepted, the only way to make sense of the present was to go back to the past – but beware of what you might find there. Truth can leave wounds – even if they are only flesh wounds.

Part poignant family memoir, part rollicking venture into a 1970s Australia, this is a book for anyone who’s wondered if their family is the oddest one on the planet. The answer: ‘No’. There is always something stranger out there.

My thoughts:

In a city riven by right-wing shock-jocks, Richard Glover is Sydney’s voice of reason and humour.

As host of the ABC’s top-rating drive show, Richard is my calm and witty companion as I start down three tired and hungry children. When the children shout, I simply turn up the volume and try to escape to my happy place, populated by erudite and intelligent (and adult human beings) like Richard.

On weekends, there’s no Richard on the radio, but he’s there in my newspaper, and he has been for the past 20 years, writing a weekly column about the oddities, the ups, the downs, and the mundanities of his life and life in general.

So – given all the time we spend together (admittedly in one sided conversation) you’d think I’d know him pretty well, right?

Wrong!

Australia’s first baby of artificial insemination (albeit with a turkey baster)? A mother who barely loved him, ran off with his high-school teacher and anthropomorphised her teddy-bear collection? An alcoholic father who claimed at every opportunity that people were out to crucify him? This? This is the background of the well-adjusted man whose voice gets me through arsenic hour without my brain atrophying? It cannot be…

But it is.

Flesh Wounds is about Richard’s search for the truth around his family background. It’s a sort of self-hosted version of the SBS show ‘Who do you think you are?’

We begin at the beginning, with an hilarious account of Richard’s ‘virgin birth’ – the pregnancy being a result of his mother undergoing what would have been considered fairly experimental fertility treatment in Sydney. Treatment that resulted in Richard.

‘She was both pregnant and a virgin. So, at this point, you may wish to call me Jesus.’

Much is made of the comedy of this book, and yes, it is absolutely funny but comedy also has the side-effect of distancing us from the emotional impact of what we’re reading.

Richard’s story is tragi-comic. When he says that his main memory of childhood is that of being alone, your heart wants to break for him. Similarly, when he suffers dreadful sexual experiences in England as a 19 year old, a part of you is filled with fury.

Understanding this, Richard thankfully dials down the comedy in important moments, allowing us to feel the full emotional impact of a childhood devoid of the parental love every child deserves – not completely unusual when you consider the relative novelty of the concept of ‘childhood’. Pre-industrialisation, children were simply mini-adults, sent out to work as soon as they were of an age. Now, they are precious gems, to be polished and tended. In the 1960s, they were curiosities.

In short, Richard Glover is not the only child to have experienced parental apathy, and this is the point of his book. Were this a Hollywood movie, there’d be some monumental climax where Richard would confront his parents – and blame them for all the ills in life that beset him.

But that wouldn’t be the truth. He’s not a victim. He hasn’t repeated the ‘sins’ of his parents. He’s a highly successful journalist, a loving father of two, and partner to an extraordinary woman, successful in her own right.

The search for the truth around his past is a search for understanding. It’s not about doing hatchet-job on his parents, it’s about empathising with them, and understanding what might have made them into the parents they were.

But why share it with the world? Why air what some would consider to be his family’s ‘dirty laundry’? On this point, Richard is eloquent and profound.

‘I want to believe there’s a point to this tale – that so many of us have strange or neglectful families and yet somehow most of us survive… these things happened and I want to make something of the story, turning it into an artifact that I can toss around in my head, passing it to others to see if they find it useful. And then, more firmly than before, I can put it away on the shelf.’

I gave this book to my dad for father’s day. He read it, my mum read it, and they were about to give it to a friend before I snaffled it and inhaled it within hours. This book has barely touched a shelf since it was bought two months ago and I suspect it will visit many, many more homes before it finds a permanent one.

For more information, visit the ABC Shop.

 

2 Comments

  • Deborah
    Posted 14/11/2015 4:07 pm 0Likes

    I don’t read non-fiction but this sounds delightful… a nice mix of funny with the sad!

    • cassandrahamer@hotmail.com
      Posted 16/11/2015 12:22 pm 0Likes

      It’s great, Deb. Might be harder to read for someone who’s not already a Glover fan… but even so, it’s a fascinating tale of a type of casually neglectful parenting you don’t hear much about these days. Cassie

Comments are closed.