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Fatherhood
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Republic of Consciousness Prize > 2020 RoC longlist: Fatherhood

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message 1: by Paul (last edited Jan 25, 2020 12:20PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments Fatherhood by Caleb Klaces (Prototype Publishing)
https://prototypepublishing.co.uk/pro...

From the judges:

Prototype are a new indie on the block, having been established in 2019 with a passion for publishing experimental fiction, aiming to be a 'home for writers and artists whose work requires a creative vision not offered by mainstream literary publishers.' Fatherhood is an exquisitely composed, lyrical meditation on parenting which Max Porter has aptly described as 'a brilliant, charming and weirdly alarming poem-novel'.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments Of course first bought to our attention by Garry on the Goldsmith thread.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments First brought to our attention by Garry on the Goldsmiths Prize speculation thread and the only book here that is also eligible for the 2020 Goldsmiths

Looks very interesting - and great to see a brand-new publisher featuring


Garry Nixon (garrynixon) | 45 comments I've remembered now where I first heard about it:

https://www.theguardian.com/books/201...


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments I have not seen this mentioned elsewhere but the book has I believe very strong links with a publication (in their white essay series) by Fitzcarraldo - Second Body by Daisy Hildyard. That book seems to have had a very limited (and not exactly positive) reaction on Goodreads but I seem to recall it appearing in a number book of the year lists in 2018.

In simple terms both books have the same event (in one case at least lightly fictionalised) of a flooding of the two author’s new home when they still had a young baby. In both cases I think the incident is represented by the author as pivotal to the eponymous topic they are exploring in their essay/novel.


Tommi | 490 comments More the reason for me to read Fatherhood, then. The Second Body was a fine read even though I think what she does with ecocriticism and “scalar thinking” largely derives from Timothy Clark (e.g. Ecocriticism on the Edge: The Anthropocene as a Threshold Concept). But she demonstrates the theoretical side of the book nicely with examples from e.g. Elena Ferrante. Will be fun to compare the two books when I finally get around to reading Fatherhood, so thanks GY for the tip.


Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "I have not seen this mentioned elsewhere but the book has I believe very strong links with a publication (in their white essay series) by Fitzcarraldo - Second Body by Daisy Hildyard. That book see..."

Is the link accidental / coincidental or deliberate / explicit?


message 8: by Antonomasia (new)

Antonomasia | 2629 comments The authors are husband and wife.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments Yes hence their new home and shared baby.


message 10: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments Ah Ok. That is quite an explicit link!!


Tommi | 490 comments Interesting, did not know that. Reminds me of another not coincidental book duo: Zadie Smith (Feel Free) and Nick Laird (Feel Free).


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments Interesting though is that they both use the same (I assume true) incident


Garry Nixon (garrynixon) | 45 comments Oh blimey. Thanks GY.


Garry Nixon (garrynixon) | 45 comments Ha! That's why Fatherhood was vaguely familiar as I was reading it: I hadn't read The Second Body, but I had read that review!


message 16: by Hugh (last edited Feb 03, 2020 02:17AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3165 comments Mod
To be fair, the flood narrative only accounts for less than a quarter of Fatherhood, though it is the final part. I have not read The Second Body but I suspect their accounts are very different.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments Hugh wrote: "To be fair, the flood narrative only accounts for less than a quarter of Fatherhood, though it is the final part. I have not read The Second Body but I suspect their accounts are very different."

I have not read the book either Hugh but first of all its the final quarter of Second Body as well I think (it's the last of four essays) - hard not to think this is deliberate.

And this (from the review) sounds does not sound a very different account at all - there is huge overlap even in small details, I have included a few below (all of which you will immediately recognise from Fatherhood, even if Klaces fictionalises some details).

“We’d been told that the water would come into our house at 4.2 metres, but when the levels got to 4.3 in early December, we were still dry.”

She and her husband were in receipt of automated telephone calls whenever the rain started to fall – a computerised female voice would predict the height the river might reach.

After the flood receded, neighbours and strangers gave up their Christmas holiday time to help her hose out sediment and clean up.

During the flood her father had swum out to the house to gather paperwork; as she laid out the papers to dry, passers-by took pictures of her with their phones.

She found catharsis in throwing away many of her possessions – a catharsis that expressed itself physically: “The sense of relief was located in my spine, it felt as if my vertebrae were spacing themselves further out, as if my body was growing longer and more loose.”

Her in-laws live in Birmingham; she and her husband took turns driving between there, to spend time with their daughter, and alone in Yorkshire cleaning the house of slime and sewage. “In spite of all the help that was offered, nobody offered to help in such a way that would allow us to keep our family together, which was all I thought I wanted at the time.”


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments Another thing of interest (at least to me). In the book the narrator is commissioned to write a poem around 2AM for National Poetry Day's Theme of "Light"

This did actually happen

https://poetrysociety.org.uk/event/be...

And in fact Klaces was commissioned to write 6-8PM as well as 2-4AM both poems being featured in the book (the latter explicitly identified as a poem; the fomer as what starts as a stream of consciousness but then, later in the text, is referred to as a poem by his wife (Daisy Hildyard) who calls from her conference to say "I'm standing in the poem where you think you're God" and then compares his poem to her reality.

http://www.jaybird.org.uk/suitsyou/dy...
http://www.jaybird.org.uk/suitsyou/dy...


message 19: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments About 50 pages in to this. Interesting, although the author seems to regard fatherhood as a rather existential moment for something that is a rather common experience. At one point he comments (I think a little tongue in cheek) that [I] concluded that I was, in some important respect, the first father who had ever lived, and that sense rather comes across in the narration.

Although perhaps that is the been-there-done-that parent of 3 speaking in me, which has erased the memory of the bewilderment of the first time round.

More generally, I do think the shock of parenthood is a function of the modern age of small families living apart - my grandfather was one of 15 children so most of his generation had experienced being surrogate parents (as responsible elder siblings) long before they were actual parents.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments That's one of the great lines in the book - many first time parents (most I would say) think they are the first ever to experience it.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments Paul wrote: "my grandfather was one of 15 children "

That's odd as so was my Grandfather - in fact he and his siblings grew up in a village where my mother's paternal great-grandfather (and I think great-great) are buried.

And interestingly I have recently bought a property in that village

Which is (if I say so) rather a neat link to this book as the author moves to a housing development where he convinces himself his mother's paternal grandfather was buried.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments I normally like Splice and particularly Daniel Davis Wood but this review starts oddly:

https://www.thisissplice.co.uk/2019/1...

He describes this paragraph

"In the tenth month of my wife’s pregnancy I put aside my lifelong commitment to avoiding harm, and purchased mousetraps. The rodent population had exploded during spring, and now the summer was so hot that young mouse families were fleeing the plane trees’ inadequate shade for the cool of the ancient riverbed which lay under the cellar of our rented basement flat. They emerged in our kitchen at night to lap at the spilled juice of the pineapple intended to entice our unborn child into the visible world"

as "Surrealism? Magical realism? Still, it’s hard not to be taken aback by the idea of a ten-month pregnancy possibly induced by pineapple juice amidst a plague of vermin"

Ummm ...............

Don't all term pregnancies enter a tenth month?

Is not pineapple to induce births one of the standard tricks/myths?

Don't lots of basement flats have a mice problem?


message 23: by Neil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 1885 comments Doctors count weird things in pregnancy. They make 9 months last for 40 weeks:

Trimester 1
Month 1: Weeks 1 to 4
Month 2: Weeks 5 to 8
Month 3: Weeks 9 to 13
Trimester 2
Month 4: Weeks 14 to 17
Month 5: Weeks 18 to 22
Month 6: Weeks 23 to 27
Trimester 3
Month 7: Weeks 28 to 31
Month 8: Weeks 32 to 35
Month 9: Weeks 36 to 40

So, it largely depends on whether we are talking about calendar months or pregnancy months. Even then, though, a pregnancy that goes beyond week 40 isn't exactly unusual.

Agree on the pineapple and mouse issues. Also agree on the pregnancy - just trying to work out how to make it unusual!


message 24: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "Paul wrote: "my grandfather was one of 15 children "

That's odd as so was my Grandfather - in fact he and his siblings grew up in a village where my mother's paternal great-grandfather (and I thin..."


Didn't they initially grow up in Happisburgh - I remember a tiny house near the pub which it was almost inconceivable (pun intended) housed a family of 17?


message 25: by Hugh (new) - rated it 4 stars

Hugh (bodachliath) | 3165 comments Mod
I didn't see the book as surreal at all, though there is probably a little comic exaggeration, particularly in the character of the estate agent who sells them the house that got flooded. It was not immediately obvious to me that anything in the book is fictional.


message 26: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "I normally like Splice and particularly Daniel Davis Wood but this review starts oddly:"

Yes agreed - he seemed over influenced by the epigraph from Borges that this was magic realism.


message 27: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "That's one of the great lines in the book - many first time parents (most I would say) think they are the first ever to experience it."

Perhaps I am overly influenced by my clone having experienced it a year earlier, but that didn't resonate with me at all. I get the 'help, where's the instruction manual" thing with a new baby (still remember trying to deal with a meconium filled nappy in anger on day 1) but not the feeling I was the first to go through it.

I did like the line (not exact quote) "we decided to give the baby more me time, but she wasn't having it" except that seems more relevant for toddlers/pre-schoolers than for newborns (who ultimately can just be left to settle themselves, however mentally hard that might be).


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments Neil wrote: "Doctors count weird things in pregnancy. They make 9 months last for 40 weeks:

Trimester 1
Month 1: Weeks 1 to 4
Month 2: Weeks 5 to 8
Month 3: Weeks 9 to 13
Trimester 2
Month 4: Weeks 14 to 17
Mo..."


Ands by definition the pregnancy is over-term (hence the use of pineapple). Its just a bad start to the review by Daniel who as Paul says has completely mis-understood the relevance of the Borges quote.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments Paul wrote: "Didn't they initially grow up in Happisburgh ..."

They moved there - but it is not where they were born (Aunt Gladys is quoted in the 17/6/91 edition of the EDP as saying that she and 12 of her siblings were born in Heydon).


message 30: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments This is possibly getting a little too detailed and personal for most users of this forum! Although as Gumble says, there is a rather interesting read-over to this book.


message 31: by Ella (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
I remember when I found out that 9 months was actually ten. Even without having children/being pregnant or anything, I felt really duped and almost somehow like the whole world had lied to me for a very long time. (I was probably 20 or something.)


message 32: by Neil (last edited Feb 03, 2020 08:45AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 1885 comments Gumble's Yard wrote: "That's one of the great lines in the book - many first time parents (most I would say) think they are the first ever to experience it."

I guess I am one of the exceptions that proves the rule. I never once felt anything like I was the first. In fact, quite the opposite: with a child that refused to sleep for the first 18 months of its life, I only got through it by telling myself over and over again that I WASN'T the first and I would survive.

Of course, "refused to sleep" is an exaggeration by which I mean would not sleep when his parents needed to sleep but insisted on being carried round the living room from 1am to 4am every night while a parent talked to him. But it's over 30 years ago now and I have recovered (or maybe not looking at this post).


message 33: by Paul (last edited Feb 03, 2020 08:51AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments Yes that was my issue - it's one of the most common experiences in the world. I don't get his "first ever" comment at all. I can see saying that e.g. however much you think you are prepared you aren't etc. Plus people do tend to take advice from baby books - and before it went bust Mothercare - rather than actual other parents. I have a list of "things not to buy despite what the baby books/retailer says" which I've tried to press on other parents-to-be but - exactly as I did - they still buy it all.

List includes moses baskets (fit baby for about 5 minutes, and the ones that actually are made of reeds make no sense), baby baths (what a sink is for) .....

... and rather more controversially stair gates (babies bounce and best they learn stairs are to be avoided). But I seem in a minority of one (well two) on that.


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments Neil wrote: "Gumble's Yard wrote: "with a child that refused to sleep for the first 18 months of its life, ."

I had three of those.

Unfortunately born at 18 month intervals!!


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments Paul wrote: "I don't get his "first ever" comment at all. I can see saying that e.g. however much you think you are prepared you are... Plus people do tend to take advice from baby books - and before it went bust Mothercare - rather than actual other parents"

That was exactly the sense in which I understood it - the Father reads Russian novels and parenting books to form his view of fatherhood, rather ignoring that something like 30% of the population experience it. And lots of new parents can be evangelical about their theories/ideas/experiences (based on a sample of n=1, t = 0.25 years).


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments Paul wrote: "List includes moses baskets (fit baby for about 5 minutes..."

I unfortunately did buy one - they are to be honest quite cute. The only consolation is that I gave it to another first time parent who would not agree not to buy one but was prepared to accept an almost-new one (without making the obvious link of the reason why it was almost new), they in turn passed it on to another "first-ever" parent and so on. I suspect it has now passed through around 20 children and been slept in for less than 6 months.


message 37: by Val (new)

Val | 1016 comments Paul wrote: "... and rather more controversially stair gates (babies bounce and best they learn stairs are to be avoided). But I seem in a minority of one (well two) on that."
That must be where I went wrong. I did have a stair gate, and two daughters who were driven to climb every high thing they saw.


message 38: by WndyJW (last edited Feb 03, 2020 10:37AM) (new)

WndyJW | 4875 comments We have women’s view of motherhood in the Ducks, Newburyport thread, where the only man to comment was Mister HobGoblin, now we have the men’s view of fatherhood where only Ella made a brief comment.

Paul said that the author seems to regard fatherhood as, “an existential moment” even though it is common. I gave birth 4 times, was in the hospital when 2 of my grandchildren were born, was holding my father’s hand when he died and with my stepson when he died, and felt, irrationally, at each birth and death that all activities worldwide should stop to mark this momentous event, I wondered how others could go on about their daily lives when something profound has just occurred, that the world was now a different place, so I understand what the author is saying about these events that happen a number of times in the lives of most people, yet still feel extraordinary when they happen in my family.

You’ve all made me curious about the book because I have wanted to read books about men’s view of parenthood, a topic not covered enough in literature.


message 39: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments Yes both your point Wendy, and Graham’s rationalisation of what the author said make sense. I will concede that but I am sticking to my line on stairgates (cue someone shaming me with a story about a tragic accident) and Moses baskets (hey a brand new baby with delicate skin and parents with huge outgo - let’s buy something that will last for a week and is made of bits of fake reefs poking out everywhere).

The best, albeit rather cynical, autofictional treatment I have read of fatherhood is Knausgaard volume 2.


message 40: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 4875 comments I was just saying that I found those events were imbued with meaning, although I agree that once the event was past, actually raising children is pretty commonplace and not an answer to any existential crisis.

Without having read the book I agree that there are few baby things we really need, most are bought for sentimental reasons and to surround oneself with baby stuff, except baby gates, babies bounce, but a tumble down stairs can be fatal. I’m guessing your wife overruled you on stair gates. With my first set of kids I wanted all the cute baby things, by the time number 4 came along, many years after all the baby things had been given away, I was no longer charmed by baby decor and just wanted him to fit into our established life, which he did.

I’m not looking for a cynical treatment of fatherhood, I think culturally the idea of a father’s love is given short shrift. There is more attention given to a mother’s love and concern for her children than a father’s. We know that fathers love their children, but more stories center on mothers’ love and fathers’ abandonment or distance. I would like to read some novels that examine how fathers feel parenthood.


message 41: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments No we had no stair gates for children 2 and 3 (and child 1 past age 18 months) and no accidents, whereas when we had stair gates we did (one relies on them, and doesn’t train crawling child on safe use of stairs, and then inevitably leaves them open at some point).

There isn’t much academic research on whether stair gates do work although what there is, I have to admit, suggests I am wrong: https://adc.bmj.com/content/101/10/909


message 42: by Neil (new) - rated it 3 stars

Neil | 1885 comments I've just finished the book. I had to go back a long way to find memories of the relevant period in my own life (my younger son is in his 30s), but I had the same mix of relating to some things and not relating at all to others. But I guess everyone's experience of these major events is different.

I did struggle with the language of the book initially. It felt a bit too much for me. But either I got used to it or it settled down a bit and I was fine with it after a while. Strangely, I liked the poems more than I liked the prose and I'm not sure why that would happen.


message 43: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments Have also just finished.

One of the weirdest books I've read for some time. I don't think the baby actually exists - for much of the narration it appears to be purely a device used in sexual fantasies between the author and his wife. I'm a bit nonplussed.


message 44: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments Incidentally the poem at the novel's end is here - as well as an interview with the author (you need to click on the 'interview' button to get to the interview)

http://www.praccrit.com/poems/extreme...

Whether intentionally or not, as a parent you become a performed version of yourself.


message 45: by Emily (new)

Emily M | 439 comments WndyJW wrote: "We know that fathers love their children, but more stories center on mothers’ love and fathers’ abandonment or distance. I would like to read some novels that examine how fathers feel parenthood."

Yes, I'm interested in positive depictions of fatherhood from men and negative depictions of motherhood from women!

It is one of the small frustrations of my life that I can never convince any of my friends not to buy piles of useless crap for their children, or even convince my mother not to buy piles of useless crap for my children. On an environmental level, it gives me nightmares.


message 46: by Ella (last edited Feb 04, 2020 11:02AM) (new)

Ella (ellamc) | 1018 comments Mod
Emily & WndyJW wrote: "We know that fathers love their children, but more stories center on mothers’ love and fathers’ abandonment or distance. I would like to read some novels that examine how fathers fee..."

I third this. Actually for more than just the reason that I believe these fathers exist already (I've seen them in the wild!) But also b/c wouldn't it be nice if domestic life wasn't always somehow seen as a "woman's thing." Also, the more men can see themselves reflected in their reading in this light, the better I think for everyone. Everyone needs to see themselves from time to time or we start to feel isolated and just plain weird. Rather than always showing off toxic masculinity, perhaps showing off good men could be "a thing" as the kids say.

Oh Emily - re: the stuff - the endless stuff. I am about to lose my mind w/ my family lately and "stuff-getting." The kids don't even want the stuff for longer than it takes to open it then think of another thing to want. (This topic has been nagging at me since the holidays.) I am ashamed to say that by 13th January, when my twin niece & nephew turned 7, I walked into their birthday party, saw all the crap piled high and told them I bought them stocks for their college fund - "and enjoy that gift, kids!" (Yes, I actually said that.)

I calmed down a bit. And apparently it imprinted on their brains b/c I did get thank you notes for the first time from them (rather than their mother.) I still feel horrible for being so nasty though. Then I compensated for MY bad feelings and behavior -- by buying them some STUFF!


Gumble's Yard - Golden Reviewer | 5404 comments The "stuff" comments (which have turned into more of a discussion of toys etc than the initial "Stair-gate" debate) are in fact extremely relevant to the book.

One of the incidents mentioned in the Second Body review above (message 17) is

"She [Daisy Hildyard - Caleb Kalces wife] found catharsis in throwing away many of her possessions – a catharsis that expressed itself physically: “The sense of relief was located in my spine, it felt as if my vertebrae were spacing themselves further
out, as if my body was growing longer and more loose.”

In "Fatherhood" the same incident is described as

"I spent the next few days sponging my love onto walls and floors. One by one I bleached books, clothes and toys, caressing them tenderly with the human taint. Then I changed my mind and threw them out: possessions were obstacles in the way of LIFE. The river had done me a favour"


message 48: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments I assume the reason the father in Fatherhood threw out all the baby stuff is because he realised he didn't need it ....

... as he doesn't actually have a real baby.


Garry Nixon (garrynixon) | 45 comments I was planning a re-read anyway, but this has been given a greater sense of urgency now that I want to stress-test Paul's No Actual Baby theory.


message 50: by Paul (new) - rated it 3 stars

Paul Fulcher (fulcherkim) | 8766 comments I seem to be an outlier with that theory.


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