4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Families have a way of generating their own traditions and occasionally legends and Nicholas Royle’s family is no exception. His parents were introduced by a man called Peter Townend. He had been social editor of the Tatler and was far more used to moving in much elevated circles in British society. Royle’s father worked for him at Burkes Peerage and he was responsible for introducing Maxwell Royle and Kathleen McAdam. He still has no idea to this day how Townend knew his mother.

Kathleen was Scottish and Maxwell was English and they had fairly comfortable upbringings and their relationship blossomed and they were soon married and before long had two sons, Nicholas and Simon. Kathleen worked as a nurse before the boys were born and carried on after they had arrived. They were a comfortable post-war middle-class family and the boys were allowed a certain amount of freedom that other children weren’t necessarily afforded.

This book by Royle is his kaleidoscope of memories of her and family life in short essays. We read of her sitting in the kitchen doing a Times or Telegraph crossword, the tidy house that was so very different to his cousins home. The brothers would spend hours wandering the countryside, birdwatching and searching for dead animals joy of the family Sunday roast. She would read voraciously, a habit and pleasure that she passed onto Royle, but she could be utterly scathing about the books that she didn’t like, dismissing one classic as drivel!

But in amongst all the happy times were moments of tragedy, he lost his brother to cancer when he was in his twenties, and you can sense that every time he talks about him, that it is still raw even now. The book opens too with Kathleen saying that she ‘is losing her marbles’ and he effectively lost her twice, once to dementia and finally when she passed.

I really enjoyed this as it is a touching book about a normal family growing up in a time that seems to be in a different world to today’s relentless pace of life. I liked that these fragments of his memories did not fit a regular timeline, it felt like someone sifting through a box of photos and the snap found would trigger the memories of a favourite holiday, reminders about other members of the wider family or the time when his brother kept raptors and his father working at Burkes Peerage. A detail mentioned in an earlier essay is expanded on in another before being concluded in yet another. He does not try to make you like her, rather he presents her to us just as she was and tells us he loved her then and still does now.

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