Landscapes of Silence: From Childhood to the Arctic by Hugh Brody - review by Mathew Lyons

Mathew Lyons

Cold Comforts

Landscapes of Silence: From Childhood to the Arctic


Faber & Faber 224pp £20

One night in the winter of 1961–2, the anthropologist Hugh Brody sat on the bed in his attic room in his parents’ house, placed a cartridge in his shotgun, leaned the shotgun barrel against his head and pulled the trigger. ‘My sense of having no future was so complete that it obscured the possibility of there being a present,’ he writes of that moment now. He was eighteen years old.

What made a boy whose childhood loves were bucolic – countryside, birds, fishing – and creative (painting was another passion) become so emptied of hope, so inert to the possibility of happiness? Over the first section of Landscapes of Silence – part memoir and part, in its author’s characterisation, anthropology of the self – Brody sketches a childhood dominated by a mother incapable either of expressing love or of sharing any part of her emotional life, of providing that well of intimate stories and experience that all families, however constructed, draw sustenance and solidity from. It wasn’t until the very last night of her life, in the summer of 2009, he writes, that he ever thought he loved her. He never tells us her name.

But he came to understand her trauma and empathise with her. She was a Viennese Jew from a prosperous bourgeois family. She fled Austria with her own mother shortly before the war. Working as a nurse in a Sheffield hospital, she met and fell in love with a

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