Enough: Scenes from Childhood by Stephen Hough  - review by Rupert Christiansen

Rupert Christiansen

Piano Man

Enough: Scenes from Childhood


Faber & Faber 272pp £18.99

Any memoir of the first twenty years of one’s life runs the risk of glibly sentimentalising the past and assuming that trivial remembered details or moments merit wider circulation. Stephen Hough doesn’t altogether avoid these traps – do we really need to know about the antics of his guinea pig, the menu at a long-defunct vegetarian cafe or his brief stint working in a pub? – but his account of his growth as both a human being and one of the great pianists of his generation is nevertheless wonderfully vivid and touching.

Born in the Wirral in 1961, the only child of lower-middle-class parents whom he paints in sympathetic shades, Hough soon showed prodigious keyboard talent. ‘Could this be the new Mozart?’ the Daily Mail trumpeted when he was eight and a finalist in a national competition. Although he claims to have ‘lived and breathed only for and next to the piano’, he emerges as a sensitive and complex child alert to the comedies of an era of ‘bright plastic optimism’, in which food came ‘frozen, fried or boiled to a paste’ and domestic life was thick with the fug of tobacco and sexual prevarication.

Steering his way through this unpromising environment, Hough entered puberty ‘introverted, afraid, bored and grossly underachieving’. There’s an implicit sense that things could easily have gone very badly wrong – today he would doubtless have been thrust under the wing of a psychotherapist. His account of his bleak

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