Three novels about complex families
…just in time for the festive season
Today I am doing something I used to be firmly against: putting up my Christmas tree - in November! I know. But given that I leave London a week before Christmas to head to my family in Wales, I’d like to enjoy the tree for as long as possible. (And life is better without arbitrary rules, anyhow.)
So, with the festive season firmly on my mind, I wanted to recommend the following novels. They have nothing to do with Christmas but everything to do with family dynamics.
At the Table by Claire Powell
When Nicole and Jamie meet their parents for a Mother’s Day meal in a posh London restaurant, the last thing they’re expecting to hear is that they’re separating after 30 years of marriage.
It’s a piece of news which shatters their illusion of the perfect family, forcing the siblings to confront their own respective relationship dramas (for Nicole it’s a break up she can’t get over; for Jamie it’s an impending wedding he’s having doubts about). Acid-drop sharp and brilliantly droll, At the Table is a portrait of a crumbling family which is cleverly told over a series of lunches, dinners and drinks.
Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
A Ghanaian family moving to the United States for a better life ought to have been a tale of the American Dream. Instead, Gifty grows up in Alabama experiencing the harsh realities of immigrant life, and witnessing her unit of four become two when both her dad and brother die.
Gifty later becomes a successful scientist at Stanford, but when her mother comes to stay, the painful truths of their past resurface. Transcendent Kingdom is a profound and incredibly affecting story about family trauma, immigration, and survival; one that I can see being a classic in years to come.
The Dutch House by Ann Patchett
I love novels where the setting is as much of a character as the protagonists themselves, and in The Dutch House it’s the eponymous home where Danny and Maeve grow up. This is a mansion steeped in family history: it’s where their mother left and never came back, where their father then brought home their awful new stepmother Andrea, and where, decades later, the siblings revisit time and time again, simply to look at the house from the car and contemplate what went wrong.
Patchett has such an effortless style that it’s easy to forget just how fine her craft is. I could write pages on how good the novel is - how much I rooted for Danny and Maeve; how sad and wonderful and true this story is. The Dutch House seeps inside you and stays there, adamantly unforgettable.