What we know and what we don’t know about our families.
Margaret Forster exercised both her historical and creative imaginations to investigate her own female line, partly for pure story, partly for the whole mother-and-daughter commitment thing, and partly as an analysis of how women’s lives worked in the past and how they work now. The result is sobering and tantalising.
I thought of the Mitford sisters’ lives, outwardly a dramatic contrast. Forster’s mother and her sisters lived through the same decades, but as northern working women their lives could scarcely have seemed more different. Except, of course, for their shared preoccupations with marriage, illicit sexual relations, and the question of balancing income, personal fulfilment and childbearing. And they all had their secrets.
The secrets seemed particularly onerous for Forster’s mother and grandmother. And exceptionally well-kept. There is a large, secret-shaped space in their lives, but what is inside it Margaret Forster will never, never know.