My recent visit to my family has brought to the front of my mind just how important family is, but while family life plays a significant role in much of children’s literature it is often less prominent in adult literature, no doubt reflecting the greater variety of influences and situations in adult life. But there is some literature which places family life front and centre, and here’s my list of five of the best.
Sense and Sensibility, by Jane Austen (1811). The bond between sisters takes centre stage in this novel about two young, single women facing ‘diminished circumstances’ and heartbreak. Marianne, the younger, wails her woes to the heavens while her older sister, Elinor, bears her pain in silence for the sake of her sister and mother. But both sisters share an integrity and discernment which ultimately leads them to triumph over their circumstances in a thoroughly satisfactory ending.
The Brothers Karamazov, by Fyodor Dostoevsky (1880). To be honest, I’ve been half-way through reading this book for about the last year and really must finish it. The story centres on 55 year old Fyodor Pavlovich Karamazov and his three sons by his two wives and possible illegitimate fourth son. Amidst disputes over money, women, and religion Dostoevsky weaves a deeply philosophical discussion of God, free will, morality, modernism and tradition. It’s dense but beautiful and I really must make time to finish it.
My Family and Other Animals, by Gerald Durrell (1956). Between 1935 and 1939 the young Gerald lived on the Greek island of Corfu with his older brothers and sister and widowed mother. The island was a ten-year-old boy’s paradise, filled with a multitude of intriguing animals and eccentric humans, all of which are celebrated in the autobiographical account of the man who, in part due to these experiences, became a well-known naturalist. Probably the most carefree and delightful of all the books on this list it’s also the only one I don’t own.
One Hundred Years of Solitude, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (1970). Set against the turbulent background of the later 19th and early 20th century in an unnamed South American country, One Hundred Years follows multiple generations of Buendía family, whose patriarch, José Arcadio Buendía, founds the fictional town of Macondo. It’s an isolated life in which traditional morality breaks down, giving way to a sensual paganism and superstition. When the outside world does intrude it ends in blood and violence. Written in richly lyrical prose, this wouldn’t be to everyone’s taste but is well worth a try.
The Joy Luck Club, by Amy Tan (1989). This is the story of mothers and daughters, but it is also the story of the clash of cultures between three Chinese-born immigrant women and their American-born daughters, now grown to adulthood. It’s a story of misunderstanding giving way to understanding as all concerned begin to explore ways not only of telling their stories but also of listening to the stories of those they love.
Do you have a favourite book about family life? Tell me about it.