Monday, 28 March 2016

Review: 'A House Full of Daughters: A Memoir of Seven Generations' by Juliet Nicolson

The title was the first thing that intrigued me about A House Full of Daughters as did the idea of bringing together seven generations, spanning decades upon decades of family history. So I was very excited when I got the chance to read it and am very glad I did. Thanks to Random House and Netgalley for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Pub. Date: 24/03/2016
Publisher: Random House UK Vintage

All families have their myths and legends. For many years Juliet Nicolson accepted hers – the dangerous beauty of her flamenco dancing great-great-grandmother Pepita, the flirty manipulation of her great-grandmother Victoria, the infamous eccentricity of her grandmother Vita, her mother’s Tory-conventional background. 
But then Juliet, a renowned historian, started to question. As she did so, she sifted fact from fiction, uncovering details and secrets long held just out of sight. 
A House Full of Daughters takes us through seven generations of women. In the nineteenth-century slums of Malaga, the salons of fin-de-siècleWashington DC, an English boarding school during the Second World War, Chelsea in the 1960s, the knife-edge that was New York City in the 1980s, these women emerge for Juliet as people in their own right, but also as part of who she is and where she has come from. 
A House Full of Daughters is one woman’s investigation into the nature of family, memory, the past – and, above all, love. It brings with it messages of truth and hope for us all.
Family history is absolutely fascinating, especially when it is conducted by a family member themselves. I myself have been fascinated by the history of my family, the way in which the different generations interacted with each other and where potential roots can be found. And since Nicolson comes from a fascinating family, one which started in Spain, stopped over in Washington before becoming nobility in England , A House Full of Daughters is quite an intriguing read. What immediately endeared Nicolson and her book to me, however, was that she purposefully looked at the women in her family and their roles and relationships with each other. History is largely man-made and hence full of men doing interesting things that we're all taught about, with women too often sidelined and invisible. What Nicolson shows in A House Full of Daughters is that women have always led equally fascinating lives, even if they haven't been as reported about, as men and that these deserve as much attention. The emphasis upon daughterhood as well, a singular concept which shows how women never truly lose their ties to family, provided Nicolson with an interesting perspective to approach her family history.

Nicolson brings a charming mix between historicity and personal observations to A House Full of Daughters. As a respected and well-known historian, Nicolson clearly knows what she's doing as she is researching the different generations, but she brings her own, emotional flavour to it. Whether it is references to her family's tradition of recording their own history or her own personal memory of her parents and grandparents, Nicolson always reminds the reader that she is writing about her own history. As such A House Full of Daughters is also a testament of Nicolson exploring herself and where she comes from, showing how the past affects the future. What was interesting was her attention for the daughter-mother and daughter-father relationship and especially how it changes throughout a woman's life. I love reading about history in a different way, approaching what we think we know in such a way that it reveals something new and unexpected.

Nicolson's writing style is very straight-forward and simple, in the best way. She is continuously evoking images for the reader, whether it is describing the staunch propriety of Arcochon or Vita Sackville-West's quest for freedom. Rather than steep her stories in loads of dates and casual name drops Nicolson wants her readers to get a real idea of how her ancestors lived. Nicolson also doesn't let the fact it is her own family cloud her vision. Pettiness and jealousy, abandonment and betrayal, she covers it all without making excuses, truly unveiling a family past. Personally, being literary-minded, I found her discussion of Vita the most interesting, simply because finding out more behind Virginia Woolf's inspiration for Orlando is a treat.

I give this book...

3 Universes!

I thoroughly enjoyed A House Full of Daughters but I don't think it's necessarily for everyone to read about the ups and downs of a single family, even if it is an interesting one. I'd recommend this both to fans of Historical Fiction and Biographies.

1 comment: