The author of The Debt to Pleasure digs into his family's extraordinary past in a memoir as enthralling as his finest fiction
It was only when his mother died that John Lanchester realized how little he really knew about his parents. With the cache of letters and papers she left behind, he set out to reconstruct just who his parents had been. In doing so, he did much more than trace the remarkable story of a reluctant international banker, a secretive former nun, and the life they shared; he also gained extraordinary insight into his own nature and a deeper understanding of the universal push-pull of family love-and family loss. Part detective work, part evocation of character, this is, above all, compelling storytelling.
In his first memoir, novelist Lanchester investigates how his parents' life stories shaped him as a writer. Born in Hamburg, Germany, raised in Asia and educated in England, he is an only child of an international banker, whose transcontinental origins are equally difficult to categorize, and an ex-nun from Western Ireland, whose former life in the cloister remains a mystery throughout his childhood. When Lanchester was 21, his father died of a heart attack soon after retiring from decades of unfulfilling "wage slavery," causing Lanchester to reconsider his own career path. Years later, as he settles funeral arrangements for his mother, both her name and birth date come into question a shocking revelation that drives much of the narrative. From old letters, photographs, journal entries and interviews with family members, Lanchester pieces together the truth: that after she left the convent, she assumed a false identity and lied about her age to convince Lanchester's father to marry her (she claimed to be 32 when she was in fact nearly 40). Of interest to Lanchester fans, the events prefigured in his novel Fragrant Harbor are explained here. While Lanchester's parentage and transient childhood in the "hybrid, postcolonial-to-capitalist bubble" are far from ordinary, his insight into the nature of families, their secrets and their sacrifices strike universal chords in this lovingly told account of how one storyteller came to be.