BOOK REVIEW / Beleaguered bambina in rural bohemia: 'Come and Tell me Some Lies' - Raffaella Barker: Hamish Hamilton, 14.99 pounds
Sunday 17 July 1994
Gabriella, the heroine of the novel, is the daughter of the poet Patrick Lincoln and his wife, Eleanor, who is the same age as his children from a previous marriage. They live with their five children in a chaotic rented farmhouse, with broken cars in the drive, animals on the kitchen table, drunken evenings, and a generally happy-golucky atmosphere.
The book takes the form of a series of vignettes moving backwards and forwards in time, ending with the death of the old poet, always the central figure in Gabriella's life.
Raffaella Barker writes movingly about childhood with parents who are both lovable and embarrassing, and about the selfishness of adolescence with its soaring and plunging extremes of emotion. Indeed at one stage there is what appears to be a series of set- pieces about hopes raised and then dashed in bitter disappointment: her father's poetry reading at a grand local house ruined when her mother crashes
on to a table, spilling red wine on a white carpet; a 15th birthday spoiled by an approach from a dirty old man; her first grown-up party turned sour when a 1920s silk dress is conspicuously different from the other girls' conventional party clothes.
The pleasures and discomforts of the bohemian rural life are well pinpointed, the members of a large extended family lovingly portrayed. But it is not easy for the reader to share the author's worship of the drunken father. His 'poetic' manner - 'Dear heart do not allow these bambini in here when I am in my cups' - might possibly be charming in real life, but does not quite work on the page. Gabriella's mother, Eleanor, on the other hand, is an attractive and familiar figure - the devoted and put-upon wife of the genius, hard-working and herself eccentric.
Raffaella Barker, in this highly assured beginning, has achieved the remarkable feat of observing a family from the point of view of a child at several different ages, and finally that of an adult, when the roles of parent and child are to some extent reversed. She writes beautifully, gathering intensity at the end with the deaths of first her half-sister and then her father, combining, with apparent ease, emotion and admirable precision.
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