The Facts of Life – Graham Joyce

World Fantasy Award and British Fantasy award winner for Best Novel as well as L’Grand Prix de l’ Imaginaire for Best Foreign Language Novel, The Facts Of Life is one of Graham Joyce’s most acclaimed works. Set during and just after the second world war, this is the story of the Vines, an extraordinary family of seven sisters. Presided over by Martha who has the gift of foresight and the remarkable ability to communicate with the dead, the women live out tangled lives built on loyalty and betrayal, love and frustration. Born into this family is Frank, the illegitimate son of Cassie, Martha’s youngest daughter. Realizing that Cassie, an unpredictable free spirit, can’t be trusted alone with a newborn, Martha undertakes to ensure his care by informing the family that they will all be responsible for raising him. Passed around from sister to sister, Frank is the innocent witness to a world transitioning from war to peace and from the mundane into magical. The sisters who have witnessed Martha’s extraordinary psychic powers begin to wonder if Frank has inherited her talent. The novel contains haunting images and descriptions of the Coventry blitz and charts the city’s regeneration as Frank grows into a young man.

Excellent story about family bonds, a slice of life and the devotion of a mother. What I found quite odd – the focus is soley on the women and the new child, Arthur. The patriarch of the family seems to be quiet or absent. There’s an explanation to it, so I’ll take that

When challenged by Martha he retorted that a house full of the clamor of eight noisy women was enough to condemn any man to silence. Challenged a second time he said that what with the house being so full of foolishness he didn’t want to open his mouth to add to it.

What also got me to do a double-flip was the very exciting sex scene in the middle of this (sometimes boring) book. I was pretty entertained by a change in tone and pace.

So for five years William had thought, from time to time, of Rita’s muff. The thought might come to him in the middle of weighing parsnips, or stacking grapefruit; or it might come to him while reading the football results; or last thing at night in the moments before sleep. And his reflex every time had been to push the degenerate—for so he considered them to be—thoughts aside. For five years. And now here he was, kissing Rita’s belly, running south. Her skin was so unlike Olive’s. Rita’s skin was the color of the white sand in the African desert. And when he drew closer to her the smell was not unlike the odor of the spice market in Cairo. It was complex, rich, exotic, and threatening. It was so strong he thought it might make him faint. He pushed his fingers inside her and Rita moaned. He found her clitoris, just where Archie had told him he would. He teased it with his forefinger and Rita pushed her pubic mound up at him, toward his mouth. And when he buried his face in her muff the smell of her was like a hot wave. He pushed his tongue at her clitoris and she whipped her body.

Virtually plotless, the book unfolds as a series of vignettes, interrelated loosely through shared, affectionately realized characters and seriocomic treatments of death and (especially) sexuality. Frank’s supernatural experiences, which include frequent sessions with a mysterious figure he refers to cryptically as “The-Man-Behind-The-Glass,” are hints that he shares hi relatives’ powers. Indeed, the subtlety with which Joyce presents clairvoyant episodes makes them entirely credible in a novel that celebrates the strong bond of family and the deep well of sensitivity on which they all draw. In the end, this is a haunting story about flawed but good-hearted people who bear the hallmarks of eccentricity but also the beneficent aura of human connectedness.


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