I am on the verge of feeling hostile towards books about people surviving appalling childhoods, and it seems that I am not alone in feeling like that: I have just read a piece by Libby Brooks in The Guardian in which she remarks that shelves seem to be ‘heaving’ with them nowadays – a suggestive choice of verb. So I had reservations about embarking on Julia Blackburn’s memoir, which tells just such a story. The fact that I was unable to put it down is proof of how well she tells it, and of how such an experience, if described with real skill, honesty and sensitivity, will make a valuable book, however many others of a similar kind have been published.
Julia’s father was a poet addicted to alcohol and barbiturates who was often savagely violent, and her mother was a painter addicted to self-love and sex, incapable of recognising anyone’s needs but her own. Both of them were in the habit of claiming that Being an Artist justified disgusting behaviour,