Marina Warner, who writes about myths, fairy tales, symbols and female iconography, is an iconic figure herself. She has been ploughing her furrow now for fifty years: the first of her forty books, The Dragon Empress: Life and Times of Tz’u-hsi, was published in 1972, and the second, Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and Cult of the Virgin Mary (1976), launched her fame. Now that she is loaded with laurels (she is a dame as well as the first woman president of the Royal Society of Literature), we might assume that her memoir would provide an account of the trials involved in forging her extraordinary career, but instead she tackles the early years of her parents’ marriage.
Memoir is about memory, and Warner muddies the waters by returning to a period when she was either not yet born or too young to make sense of what was going on (she is five when the book ends). ‘It is not possible’, she explains, ‘to know your parents or