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Thursday, February 13, 2014

All families have a secret but not many have a book in them as good as as Ben Watt's

We never think our parents are entirely real.

We go from depending on them when we’re young to patronising them when we’re teenagers to depending on them again when we have kids of our own and then patronising them all over again when they’re getting properly old. At no stage do they ever quite emerge from our shadow. That’s the way we prefer it.

We also tend to assume that our horizons are broader than theirs and our experiences are somehow deeper and more profound than theirs. This must be particularly the case if you’re any kind of celebrity and have had the experience of being asked what you think and feel about just about everything.

Romany and Tom is Ben Watt’s book about his parents. Mother was an actress turned magazine journalist and rather grand. Father was an underemployed jazz musician and rather Scottish.

It starts in their later years, in retirement flats and care homes, and goes back through their individual stories and on into their strange romance. It’s not a comforting story. It’s got very few “aw, sweet” moments. That’s what I like about it. It’s closely observed, brilliantly written and unsparing in making Romany and Tom real, even at the cost of making them likeable.

I was enthusing to my wife about it, misquoting the old Alan Bennett line about all families having a secret and the secret being that they’re not like other families. I was speculating you could write a book as arresting as this one about any family. She didn’t think you could. Maybe she’s right. I still think all families are equally strange. Most of the time we’re on the inside. When you're on the inside you can't see it. It's afterwards that you see it.