Fanny Burney’s famous account of having her breast cut off without anaesthetic in 1812 was recently read out on Woman’s Hour, a programme whose unflinching and trustworthy ethos is personified in its presenter, Jenni Murray. Whether listening to harrowing tales of pain and loss and human indomitability, or beadily interrogating devious politicians, or confessing to idolising interviewees like Joan Baez, she is the voice of Everywoman. A mother, a daughter of aged parents, a tidy housekeeper, a wife (marrying her children’s father after twenty years together), she is a fallible modern woman who eats too much, smokes too much and approaches the age of sixty with a thinly veiled air of chippiness, the residue of being ‘the working-class girl from Barnsley’ who has always feared being found out.
Murray undertook this book, a memoir of childhood injected into a diary of the year in which both parents died and she was diagnosed with breast cancer, in order to set down and sort out the inescapable, guilt-inducing mother–daughter relationship. Hence the title, reminiscent of her heroine Simone de Beauvoir’s