April 26, 2005

BOOKS: The Family Tree, Carole Cadwalladr (2005)

Three generations of English women seek love and happiness, and it's a series of most entertaining stories.

Rebecca, our narrator, is married -- not entirely happily -- to a geneticist who doesn't want children. As a child, she watched her mother, Doreen, struggle with bipolar disorder; grandmother Alicia has never really gotten over losing the love of her life, and settled for marrying her first cousin, Herbert.

Cadwalladr's novel is sometimes very funny, sometimes nearly tragic, and sometimes both at once, most impressively in a beautifully written scene depicting Doreen's disastrous dinner party in honor of the Charles-Diana wedding.

It would have been nice if the men in the book were as well-written, or as sympathetic, as the women, but still, I enjoyed this one a lot.

(A quibble: I don't normally get too bothered by factual errors in novels; people get things wrong in real life, and fictional characters should have the same luxury. But when a character is presented as an expert in some field, I expect the author to have done her research; if that character's going to make mistakes, they had better be sophisticated mistakes of the sort one might expect from someone with expertise. It's terribly jarring when Rebecca, who is writing a thesis on 70s pop culture, tells us that the British sitcom The Good Life (1975-1978) was "restyled" as the US sitcom Green Acres (1965-1971). Not unless someone had a time machine, it wasn't, and that's too stupid a mistake for the character to make.)

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