Melancholy baby

Carole Morin on Daddy's girl

The Kiss by Kathryn Harrison, Fourth Estate, pounds 14.99

Women are allowed to take themselves seriously, whereas likeable lads have to stay self-deprecating if they want to be loved. Or so it seems if the autobiographies of pale English wimps like Richard Rayner and Nick Hornby are compared to the darker memoirs of such American babes as Elizabeth Wurtzel and Mary Karr. The female writers have more in common with the watakushi shosetsu, the Japanese "I-novel" - a distinct form that is neither fiction nor autobiography.

True to gender, novelist Kathryn Harrison's The Kiss follows in the melancholic footsteps of Uno Chiyo, rather than the life-affirming skip of nice-boy Nick. Given that her book is about her affair with her preacher father, this is appropriate. Their incestuous relationship begins with a lecherous, wet kiss at an airport and ends when she decides to enrol at a creative- writing school.

Is the story true? In a voyeuristic culture, the notion of truth both attracts and repels the reader. By using a photograph of pubic hair on the cover, the publisher is manipulating this grotesque fascination. Harrison plays a similar game when describing a teenage trip to the gynaecologist to have her hymen broken at her mother's request. The doctor, a father figure, is mildly surprised, but carries out his task with a series of green dildos. "Their green is a green that exists nowhere in nature ... One after another he inserts them."

"You couldn't make it up," is one response to this bizarre scene. Another is that literal truth is irrelevant. The plastic penises are an effective device to prove that Mom is a flakey baby; and a motivation for the narrator's affair with her father - a vengeful way of sexually humiliating her mother.

The idea that reality should be edited to make a story clearer and more compelling has been controversial since Picasso fell out with Gertrude Stein because she "lied" in the Autobiography of Alice R Toklas (an odd objection coming from a Cubist who invented reality in his art). But rearranging the seating plan at a Bohemian banquet - as Stein did - is different from claiming to have boffed your dad on the floor of his church, as Harrison does. Sex aids excepted, her story is generally restrained. Unfortunately, after the first kiss the momentum fizzes out, the way it does with adolescent infatuation.

Tales of child abuse are dull, familiar and sordid. Given this, Harrison doesn't do a bad job. Estranged from her father since her birth, she has only met him three times when their passionate romance begins. She is 20 and more of a consenting victim than a sophisticated but innocent Lolita. Harrison's dignified intelligence and her dad's narcissism - symbolised by his obese body - contradict each other until she finally realises their incompatibility.

In the claustrophobic atmosphere of The Kiss, there is no room for flaws. A mistake, even a tiny detail, sticks out in a narrative as focused as this one. Our heroine's glamorous young mother spends "a fortune" on a party dress for her, despite the fact that even the most determined shopper would find it impossible to spend a fortune in Laura Ashley. They should warn students in writing schools of the hazards of selecting the wrong brand name.

The Kiss is dedicated to Harrison's mother, who dies of cancer towards the end. Mom's death dissolves the incestuous menage-a-trois, proving her suspicion that it was thwarted desire for her that motivated the relationship between her lost husband and bitter daughter.

The blame, by this time, is firmly on the head of the father. He is definitely guilty of being a bad dad, as well as being a crazy mixed-up preacher. However, the moral superiority of women - which allows them to forgive only each other - is as unattractive as a literary denouement as in real life. After all, although they confused Dad with God during their obsession and made him the devil afterwards, he is just a man.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn