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.

News

literature

News
Dermot O'Leary attends the X Factor Wembley Arena auditions at Wembley on August 1, 2014 in London, England.

television

News
news
Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
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.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss