Even in this golden age of autobiography, Brian Thompson’s Keeping Mum made a deservedly huge impact when it appeared last year. The catastrophic marriage between his manic-depressive mother (Peggy, aka Squibs) and ruthlessly unfeeling, upwardly mobile father (Bert), the irrational decision to send him during the war from safe Cambridge to his uncle and aunt off the Kingston bypass (where the house was duly blitzed), the disastrously ill-conceived family holiday in Hastings, the tragicomic death of his grandmother (Queenie) in Lambeth Walk, the painfully clumsy early fumblings with girls – the whole had an irresistibly picaresque flavour, full of pungent dialogue and sharply observed scenes, unclouded by sentimentality. The book ended in 1951, with Thompson’s headmaster realising that the sixteen-year-old had academic potential and successfully insisting to Bert that he stay on at school after his O levels.
We now, in gratifyingly quick order, have the follow-up. Clever Girl takes the story on another seven years, during which Thompson secures a place at Cambridge, does his National Service (mainly in Kenya, where he fights the Mau-Mau and spends