BOOK REVIEW / Daddy's girl: Eating Children by Jill Tweedie; Viking pounds 15.99

Click to follow
The Independent Culture
THERE ARE many ways to distinguish between autobiography and therapy. One is that with therapy the subject pays someone to listen to them regress, whereas with autobiography it is the other way round.

Jill Tweedie, a journalist rightly regarded with respect and affection, is pleasantly up-front about the process here, beginning in traditional mode with her response to the death of her father, in her fifties: 'Something shifted inside my skull, did a slippery flip then slithered away like a fish from a net and I knew it was my self.' It was important, we understand, for her to re- evaluate her self in the light of events of her life, and off we go.

For at least two thirds of the book, nothing dramatic happens - a middle-class childhood in the Home Counties with unhappily married parents, visits to colourful relatives in Turkey, tights down the bra at Swiss finishing school, six months with relatives in Canada - but what of it? It is no longer considered necessary to have been a world leader, a film star or a hostage to feel an autobiographical outbreak appropriate. The formation of Tweedie's feminism is worth knowing about, particularly when recounted with her hard- headedness and insight.

Unfortunately, she attempts to infuse the early years with the voice of her youthful self, and gets cute. 'They made me feel trapped in the folds of some horrid scratchy stuff,' she explains, of adults. 'Boo hoo,' she cries as she leaves her fiance for Canada. 'I foiled his evil plan by making hideous retching noises at a key moment,' she says of a man who tried to rape her. It is disingenuous, it doesn't do her justice, and it means she takes 64 pages to reach the age of 10.

It is when a teenage Tweedie marries the sort of mad East European count who breaks windscreens with axes that the story takes off. Throughout there are excellent insights into childhood, womanhood and how having for a mother a 'weepy woman on the losing side' sows the seeds of a life filled with more than 'the desert of marriage and babies'. The loathed irascible father, whose legacy Tweedie writes to exorcise, towers above the book as major black comic force.

It's fascinating stuff, but pages of ballet classes and crushes on ski instructors get in the way. We leave Tweedie in her twenties, not yet a writer, with all the rest (and future volumes?) to come.