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Five of the best books about fatherhood

Five of the best books about fatherhood

When I tried to winnow down my favourite books about fatherhood, it was a surprise to realise how many of the novels on my list were written by women. What is it with dudes and the domestic? Where did the idea come from that that part of life is dull, beneath artistic notice? We have Cyril Connolly to thank for the old edict that there is “no more sombre enemy of good art than the pram in the hallway”. I reject that. So, I think, would the authors of these five books, all of whom made good art from the pram.

Home by Marilynne Robinson

The second book in Robinson’s Ames-Boughton sequence, Home makes a close study of a father, Robert Boughton, who is nearing the end of his life. His children have grown up and moved away from the family home in Iowa – all except one, Robert’s youngest daughter, Glory, who cares for him. So enormous is the sacrifice that Glory has made, Robert can hardly see it. Instead he obsesses over his most wayward and least dutiful child, Jack. A quiet masterpiece of fatherly complacency.

The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

In the first instalment of of her five-volume Cazalet Chronicle, Howard takes the almost revolutionary decision to write about a couple of post-Victorian fathers – Rupert and Hugh Cazalet – who actually like their children and play an active role in their domestic lives. Roving around the consciousnesses of a vast English family, The Light Years also explores a (much, much) darker shade of fatherhood, too.

Miracles of Life by JG Ballard

In these memoirs, frank and bracing, the British novelist recalls the death of his wife in the 1960s and his decision to raise their three children as a single parent, against prevailing social expectations of the era. Drinking quite a lot, watching Blue Peter, serving middling dinners, Ballard makes no claims for himself as an ideal father. But it’s clear from this book he was a present one, curious about his children and energised in all sorts of ways by their company.

Rain by Don Paterson

The Scottish poet can wring beauty from almost anything, beer bottles, guitars, train lines, you name it. I love his mid-career collection Rain for its back-to-back poems about being a father to small boys. In Why Do You Stay Up So Late? and The Circle, Paterson gets stuck in on the cosmic aspects of being a father, while recognising how closely the cosmic can be allied to the mundane, “the dull things of the day”.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

Protectiveness. Fear of loss. These are enormous, sun-blocking aspects of parenting. In Lincoln in the Bardo, Saunders delves in to the shattering aftermath of the death of a child. In this case the child is a real-life figure, Abraham Lincoln’s son Willie, who died of typhoid fever at a young age. The chapter in which Abraham returns for one last hour in the company of his son’s body is the most devastating I’ve ever read.

Source: theguardian.com