I had a bit of a struggle rating this, as I sometimes do with memoirs. I always try to take all possible aspects of review into consideration when I gI had a bit of a struggle rating this, as I sometimes do with memoirs. I always try to take all possible aspects of review into consideration when I give a rating, but when it comes to memoirs it can be harder to separate the personal story and events from the quality of writing, the readability and flow of the book, and those other technical aspects that add or detract from a book overall.
This really is less a memoir about Ted than about Gerald himself, which is as it should be. In that sense, the title of the book is a bit misleading. Still, there were significant aspects of Ted and his personality that were revealed through Gerald's storytelling, that really captured Ted as only his brother could.
I can honestly say I think everyone should have a chance to tell the story of their own life, and that it is especially important that we listen to the stories of the older people in our society, and that we cherish and pass on those stories ourselves to new generations. As a genealogy fanatic, one of the pervading thoughts I had as I read about Gerald's life was that if I were one of his descendants, and came across this years and years down the line, I would be incredibly ecstatic to have found such a goldmine of personal family history. It's fairly easy to find names, dates and places and put them on a family tree, but the stories that Gerald tells are the heart of what people are really searching for when they do genealogy research.
There is nothing particularly titillating or outrageous included in his memoir; no tales of murder, violence, sex or drugs, to keep you gripping the edge of your seat. Gerald has led a long, and for the most part fairly normal or average life. That does not mean that I find the book to be boring, and in fact, the fact that he was not someone who led some over-the-top wild kind of life is the exact reason why the book is good, in my opinion. Gerald comes across in the book as very down to earth, likeable and earnest. While some of the stories might lack the finesse that a professional writer might bring to them, they are whimsical and nostalgic and have a vividness to them that makes Gerald and his family very easy to imagine and relate to.
I admit that my interest in Ted Hughes really only stems from my love of Sylvia Plath. I have read a lot of atrocious comments and accusations about him that attack his character, some that seem quite unfair, others not so much. What I have read about him through Sylvia herself, and through other Plath-related avenues, has largely been the basis of my knowledge about him. I was angry, like so many others, that Hughes burned Sylvia's final diaries, and am still saddened at the loss. I believe that at least part of him chose to do so to protect himself, not just his children.
Even so, I think he has been villainized more than he rightfully deserves, with many people quick to place the blame on him for her suicide. I'm sure the demise of their relationship certainly contributed to her depression, and Ted definitely had his faults and does not appear to have been a very good husband in many aspects, but to place the blame on him ignores the fact that Sylvia had a history of depression and had attempted suicide prior to her relationship with Ted.
I really appreciated that this book gave me a chance to see Ted in a different light than he is usually cast, and through the eyes of someone who had known him and been close to him in some way through most of his life, and who was not just interested in telling the story of Ted and Sylvia. It was nice that although he did mention the more salacious things that really could not be avoided, like Sylvia and Assia's suicides, he really didn't focus on those aspects too deeply. Instead, I was able to see Ted as a more whole person, instead of the caricature of him that I've usually seen portrayed. Rather than the focus being mostly on the mistakes he made, and the flaws in his character, Gerald was able to give a glimpse of a complex and complicated man who neither angel nor devil, but flawed and human....more