Aug 22, 2015

Book Review- Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming

not-my-father-s-sonHow do you judge a memoir? Are we judging the quality of the writing or making value judgements on the life displayed within? Both?

Looking purely at its technical aspects Not My Father’s Son was exceedingly well structured.  The writing fits with Cumming’s public persona - it’s lively and cheeky and witty but not silly.  Above all I’d say it feels honest and perhaps that’s what enabled it to get under my guard. I wouldn’t say that I am a fan of Alan Cumming but I have certainly enjoyed his work since first seeing him in Circle of Friends.

I read Not My Father’s Son without any forewarning as to the contents, I hadn’t seen the episode of Who Do You Think You Are referred to in the book.  If I had to pin down what piqued my interest I’m not sure I could tell you, other than having seen him recently on Australia’s Book Show and thinking to myself that he’d be an interesting character to read about.

So the fact that he starts with the physical and emotional abuse perpetrated by his father came as a little surprise.  That’s not to say that it was structured this way as to hook in the reader, more I think that Cumming decides from the outset that you, the reader, are going to get the truth straight up.

Despite its rather harrowing content, it felt like it had the pacing of a page turner. Sure, famous peoples lives can be interesting, can fulfil a morbid curiosity but I don’t think it was some perverse voyeurism that kept me glued to the ereader screen.

Not My Father’s Son, is billed as a family memoir.  This is an apt description, for though it focuses on Alan’s early life and his abusive Father, it also investigates and interrogates( with help from the Who Do you Think You Are program) the death of his maternal Grandfather.  Cumming switches between childhood,the present and the near past weaving three parallel narratives together and finishing with a heart warming conclusion.

It’s part catharsis, part historical mystery.  If it weren’t true I don’t think the events that stretch across generations and families would be believable in fiction.

I had an idyllic childhood by comparison.  That Alan Cumming was still here to write and reveal this story is a testament to his spirit and humanity.


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