William Palmer

As Much As You Can Bear

A Lie About My Father


Jonathan Cape 324pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

Anyone seeking the sources of the extraordinary and dark imagination shown in John Burnside’s fiction and poetry should read this memoir of his childhood and adolescence. It is, above all, a portrait of his father and of the deeply wounded relationship between father and son.

The book starts starkly enough: ‘My father told lies all his life …’. Burnside knows that fiction uses lies to tell the truth, and in real life, lies conceal truths too terrible to tell. There are two sayings that this book proves; one is Auden’s recipe for creating an artist, ‘Let each child have as much neurosis as the child can bear’, and the other is the proverbial ‘No man is a man until his father dies’. The history of literature written by men might be told in terms of trouble with fathers; from Shakespeare or Dickens, to Joyce or Anthony Burgess, men have written of weak or failed fathers who drank or deceived themselves to death.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • 'Full of invention which, at its most pedestrian, is eminently Victorian, and at its most unrestrained wildly imagi… ,
    • 'What in other hands could have been a dry, pedantic account of Christianity’s birth and evolution becomes in Holla… ,
    • RT : One of my favourite literary magazines is celebrating 40 years this year. Here is the September edition of… ,
    • 'Now that the Thames is too fast-flowing to freeze, its spirit’s devotees ... have found other climes for their pri… ,
    • 'Bythell glowers past his till at a world in slow free fall.' on the travails of a second-hand book… ,
    • 'It is a scent of animal wrath, of instinctive need, of brutal life which affects the cultured nostrils of our civi… ,
    • 'The day produced countless stories of chance, of people taking one route or another without realising that the dec… ,