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This Party’s Got to Stop

February 5, 2012

My 2012 reading got off to a good start with This Party’s Got to Stop by Rupert Thomson, his first work of non-fiction. 

On the death of his father in 1984, Rupert returned to the family home in Eastbourne.  His younger brothers Robin and Ralph had returned too, the latter with a wife and baby daughter in tow, Vivian and Greta respectively.

Their father, who wrote poetry and painted, had been in frail health having caught pneumonia in 1943, whilst serving in the North Atlantic, with a decade of hospitalisation and several major operations following.  So it was always on the cards that something might happen to him.  Unlike the sudden death of their cheerful, pretty mother, Wendy, in 1964, during their early childhood.  She died playing tennis with friends, and her absence from the family naturally shaped and coloured their story.  Their father later married his au pair, Sonia, who bore him two children before separating, winning custody and returning to Switzerland.

Rupert and Robin, who share their father’s bed for convenience, are startled upon awakening to find that Ralph and Vivian are having a Chubb lock fitted to the room they’ve moved into with baby Greta – a room named ‘Paradise’.  Then they discover that the couple carry matching flick-knives to defend themselves with.

The funeral is well attended and the three brothers sing hymns together at the tops of their voices.  Afterwards, though, a gulf of distrust opens up between the family in ‘Paradise’ and Rupert and Robin, who privately dub them ‘The Unit’.

It’s almost as if the house, ‘Rokkosan’, claims the three brothers who grew up there as now, orphaned in their twenties, grieving, lost, yet curiously liberated too, they once more reside together within its pebble-dashed embrace.  Rupert moves into ‘the au pair’s room’ and writes at night.  Robin visits friends in Wales and performs his own songs with an acoustic guitar.  ‘The Unit’ keep themselves pretty much to themselves in ‘Paradise’.  The cherry trees blossom.  But it cannot last, and they know this.

With great narrative skill, Thomson shifts backwards and forwards in time from that surreal interlude of 1984, which followed his father’s death.  In December 2007 he set off for Shanghai to try and put things right with Ralph, who he hadn’t seen for twenty-three years.  And the following spring, in Eastbourne again, he touched the ground where, nearly forty-four years earlier, his mother Wendy fell.  The tennis court had gone now, replaced with a car park.

This Party’s Got to Stop is a spellbinding memoir, honest and beautifully observed, a story of loss and estrangement but with many a funny moment along the way.  And having now sampled Rupert Thomson’s prose for the first time, I must seek out his novels.

-oOo-

        

Copyright © Paul Beech 2012

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