A Life Like Other People's, By Alan Bennett

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The Independent Culture

Alan Bennett's memoir of his parents' marriage and his mother's battles with depression is clear-eyed, touching, occasionally waspish, not always charitable, and ever honest. The discovery in later life that his maternal grandfather committed suicide is, he tells us, the kind of thing a writer longs for, to spice up a dull, normal family story. But, of course, no family is ever really dull or normal, and no family is ever "like other people's", however much one might strive for it to be so.

The petty, lower-middle-class worries over what was common or not common; the aspiration to hold cocktail parties; the horror of putting oneself forward: these were the things that dominated Bennett's early life, expressed as they were by his shy, unsure mother.

Bennett blames his mother's timidity on his aunties, Kathleen and Myra, who bullied and shamed her with their more dazzling lives. But their ends were not dazzling, nor was his mother's, and this memoir, dominated by the women in his life, is Bennett's polite but enraged cry against the worst that age and illness do.

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