Books: Under Oswald's wing

Memoir of a Fascist Childhood by Trevor Grundy Arrow pounds 6.99
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The Independent Culture
Trevor Grundy's parents were fanatical supporters of Oswald Mosley and leading lights of the Union Movement, the post-war successor to the British Union of Fascists, and Grundy was brought up with an unquestioning belief that "the Leader" was the greatest man who had ever lived. At school, he happily baited Jews and told the class that the most important battle in history was the battle of Cable Street. Later, he became a star of the the Movement, its youngest public speaker and charged with organising its youth wing.

As he grew up, cracks slowly began to appear in the life his parents had constructed for him. An encounter with a Jewish woman, a job on the Continent, acquaintance with Mosley himself showed up the narrowness of his life; the Movement itself began to splinter, and his friends within the group drifted away or, in one case, suffered complete mental breakdown. Most shockingly, Trevor discovered that his mother, a rabid anti-Semite, was really Jewish: Fascism seems to have been her revenge on her parents who set her to work as a prostitute from an early age. With hindsight, her Jewishness isn't so surprising: photographs show her looking like a Mitteleuropean matriarch, and her crushing adoration of her only son could come straight out of Philip Roth.

Claims that the book is important as an account of what makes Fascism tick are surely wide of the mark. The depressing thing about Fascism is its ability to find a toehold in ordinary lives. The pathological nature of the Grundy household, Trevor's own total immersion in a delusional world, make this story a special case.

But as an account of a life lived in the shadow of parental obsession, and the eventual, wrenching break away into reality, Memoir of a Fascist Childhood bears comparison with Edmund Gosse's Father and Son. Grundy writes with an astonishing directness and honesty. That's not to say it is not constructed and self-conscious: at times Grundy indulges in literary artifice (when he arrives at his teens, in the mid-1950s, the sound of rock 'n' roll drifts predictably through the background), but so artlessly that you never feel he's trying to pull the wool over your eyes. And the book is its own happy ending: the very fact of his being able to write so dispassionately and so well about such strange beginnings is a kind of victory for the human spirit.

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