The Fragments of my Father by Sam Mills is a memoir about the author’s experience of being a carer for both of her parents in different circumstances. Her father has had mental health problems including schizophrenia since she was a child. Her mother was later diagnosed with cancer and died in 2012, after which Mills became the main carer for her father. Mills interweaves a bit of literary biography of Virginia and Leonard Woolf and Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald and how their relationships were shaped by caring responsibilities. I might have expected the literary biography elements to feel like unnecessary padding to the book, but Mills makes a convincing case that Leonard has sometimes been unfairly portrayed as a controlling husband when Virginia’s illness meant that he had to make difficult decisions in her interests in his role as her carer. Mills also explores the impact of being a carer on her own creative life as a novelist as well as setting up and running the indie publisher Dodo Ink. She is very frank about the guilt she feels when taking even the briefest break away from her caring duties and how this has affected her relationships with other people. With around 6.5 million unpaid carers in the UK alone, ‘The Fragments of my Father’ makes an exceptionally strong case towards the need to improve financial and emotional support for those making personal sacrifices every day in order to provide care for their loved ones.
Priestdaddy by Patricia Lockwood is a unique comic memoir which recounts how the author was forced to moved back to Kansas City in her early thirties to live with her parents in their very conservative household along with her husband, Jason, while he recovered from major eye surgery. Her father is a Catholic priest – that fact alone needs some explanation, as he used to be a Lutheran pastor and later converted to Catholicism after marriage and required a special dispensation from the church. Moreover, he is also described in the blurb as a “gun-toting, guitar-riffing” priest who is an extreme right-wing Republican. The structure is non-chronological and fits well with the madcap eccentric tone of the book, even if it doesn’t have the clearest narrative arc as one might expect. Lockwood has also been through several traumatic events in her life, but her nuanced discussion of more serious matters doesn’t feel jarring alongside the descriptions of her father’s frivolous antics, ensuring that this excellent memoir effortlessly balances wit and compassion.
Finally, Eurovision! by Chris West is, according to the subtitle, ‘A History of Modern Europe Through the World’s Greatest Song Contest’. West goes on a whirlwind year-by-year tour placing Eurovision in the social and political context of the time, starting in 1956 during the Suez crisis all the way through to the Brexit developments in 2019 in the updated edition of the book published this year. Given that only a handful of Eurovision entries over the years have remained genuinely famous, it can be difficult to fully appreciate the descriptions of the more obscure performances and songs referenced in the book without seeing or hearing them, although West says almost all of them can be found on YouTube. The cultural elements such as the eventual dominance of the English language are particularly interesting, as is the development of “political” voting and the recent efforts to dilute the impact of that. Overall, although some of the reflections between the Contest and modern European history are a bit tenuous to say the least, this is nevertheless an entertaining look at the arc of European integration ahead of the end of the transition period.