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The Unspoken Truth - Angelica Garnett

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Angelica Garnett / Hardcover / 304 Pages / Book is published 2010-01-14 by Chatto & Windus

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      25.04.2010 01:54
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      A quartet of autobiographical stories

      I would not normally start a review with the biography of the author, but The Unspoken Truth is presented as autobiographical fiction by a child of the Bloomsbury Group - in fact the subtitle is "A Quartet of Bloomsbury Stories". The blurb on the inside cover even identifies which character is based on the author in each of the 4 stories, just in case we are not sure.

      Angelica Garnett is the daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, though she was brought up believing that her mother's husband Clive Bell was her father, until she was rather suddenly told the truth. Her aunt was Virginia Woolf. As a child she grew up surrounded by the conversations of her intellectual and creative family. She married young to a much older man, David Garnett, who seems to have been obsessed with her family. She published a memoir, Deceived by Kindness in 1984.
      "When All The Leaves Were Green, My Love" is the story which is most obviously what I was led to expect from the subtitle and inside cover blurb, about a young girl's childhood in a very intellectual family. It is quite a sad story - Bettina craves more love and affection than she gets. Her brothers are much older and she seems to feel a bit stupid and laughed at. This story was beautifully written but the language, the concepts and the long flowing sentences made it hard to believe in as being about the thoughts and feelings of such a young girl (about 8 or 9).

      I found the other stories in the book a much more interesting read than the first one. At over 150 pages "Aurore" is a memoir-novella about a young woman who wants to experience Paris and goes to live with a couple there - she develops a lasting friendship with Gilles and Juliana, and later their daughter Aurore. Agnes (Garnett) tells the story in the first person, and it is about Agnes as much as about her friends, but this fits in well with the character ofa self-absorbed adolescent.
      The blurb suggests that Garnett is at the centre of the short story "The Birthday Party" as the character Emily, but actually this short story (first published in 1998) is about a very old man - perhaps Garnett (now in her 90s) identifies with Mischa who is isolated by others' attitudes to his old age.

      "Friendship" is another story about a woman's friendship with a couple, but unlike Agnes, Helen is a lot older than her friends.
      I like Garnett's prose style and thought there was more to these stories than autobiographical pieces about being a child of the Bloomsbury set. I would, though, like to read her memoir Deceived with Kindness, her only other published book. I would be interested in reading work by her which moves beyond autobiography, disguised or otherwise, but she may not write much more given that she is now 91.

      This is a slightly altered version of a review which first appeared at www.thebookbag.co.uk under my name.

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