Granta 161 – Sister, Brother

Granta 161: Sister, Brother. A touching and sometimes painful memor of sibling rivalry.

Granta 161: Sister, Brother. A touching and sometimes painful memor of sibling rivalry.

The theme for this issue is brothers and sisters – sibling rivalry, emotional attachment, blood ties, family bonds.  This is a rich vein to mine.  What ties us so close to our siblings – would we mutually choose them as friends on a night out? Is it more than life experience forcing us to be together?  Sigrid Rausing talks about “siblings survive by rejecting each other.”

The book starts strongly with John Niven’s O Brother – a memoir of his brother in hospital  that feels heartbroken and painfully real.  After the clumsy exchange with the doctor to see the scan John Niven moves into a story of a broken life.  The pain of having little influence over how your sibling self destructs is deep.

The Durhams by Ben Pester starts off as a work rivallry on its own it could have been a plot, but then descends into weirdness once his work rival claims his sister is haunting him – the prose mushed up the plot.

Plastic Mothers by Lauren John Joseph is another moving memoir so resonant in many Northern towns as well as Liverpool.  However, it descends into cliché with absent fathers but little about the reality that it takes two to make babies; the relationship problems are all put at the feet of men without men really figuring in the memoir.

Karolina Ramqvist’s memoir of her large family with offspring brought together from different parents is memorable only for its focus on the complexity but not in an intriguing way.

An ambitious collection of stories and memoirs on sibling rivalry and love, however the intense dynamic is sometimes lost in the prose.  It is topical at the time of reading this collection how Prince Harry’s Spare memoir has just been published disclosing that fierce rivalry and tension between brothers.  Something that was missing in this collection.

Taiye Selasi tries to put you in the scenario of where two daughters are born within minutes of each other and the symbolic meaning of this  – “one childhood containing two children.”  The challenges of not being able not share, including friends, yet physically different.  A philosophical rather than psychological discourse.

Jamal Mahjoub recalls his wayward little brother, that moral duty to keep in touch, however, emotionally painful and difficult: “ he accused me of trying to fulfil an obligation, and, of course he was right to an extent.” He brings out the ultimate question we don’t want to ask about siblings: “how can three souls, both to the same parents within such a narrow time frame, and brought up in identical surroundings, find themselves so alienated from another that they can no longer beat to see each other, rarely even communicate?”

Viktoria Lloyd Barlow presents the most vivid memoir from her upbringing with her own autism; One aspect of her autism is “an intense preoccupation with a singular topic is a common autistic preoccupation.”  Survival tactics included to “creatively employ narrative as a tactic of evasion” in conversation.  As well as there being six biological children there were foster children in and out of their home.  “the practices of our home naturally resembled those found in an institutional setting.”

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