Monday, 12 March 2012

Colm Toibin: killing parents

Start the Week on Radio 4 this morning made me seethe.

Colm Toibín and Will Eaves were both talking about the family. Colm, a wonderful essayist, has already produced a great set of mother-killing scripts in an earlier book, Mothers and Sons. Now he seems to be plundering both that and his other fabulous work on Henry James, to go over and over the same idea: to liberate yourself you must effectively kill your parents.

Will Eaves at least managed to come up with a rather brilliant rebuttal of why biographical readings of novels are always wrong: you start with a seed based in the reality of a family, and it combines with a fantasy. And it is the job of the novelist to craft a freestanding structure out of those two interdependent things.

I love his emphasis on the craft of writing, remembering that it is a labour, that writers are journeymen, travelling between market towns to sell their hard work.

Why, then, was I so affronted by two gentlemen talking about the craft of writing, and the psychological necessity of killing one's authority figures in order to create?

Well, I had started the morning clearing up a box of cereal, because my daughter felt like balancing it on her head.

Then I was nearly run over on the way back from dropping the kids at school. A truck stopped to let me cross over, but the mercedes driver behind him just couldn't wait, and screamed out around him, ramming his way through between the lorry and a crossing point in the road.

In retrospect, I don't know whether I'm more angry with the idiot driver for being a dangerous pig, or the fact that I didn't stand my ground and let him drive right into me, just to prove a point.

Instead I ended up reeling backwards out of the way, gripping onto a road sign to get my breath back, and bursting into tears. What a pathetic woman.

So, in that context, even on comforting-eternal-truisms Radio 4, even though it was Colm Toibín, and he was saying other less matricidal things about mothers, the mere mention of the phrase 'killing the mother' was enough to reduce me to tears.

Mothers are presented with a set of impossibilities, that they are asked to hold for others for the rest of their lives.

I knew this to be true before I became a mother. I made feminist readings of the novels that Colm Toibín would now like to argue are exercises in parent-killing. In fact I deferred becoming a mother precisely out of ambivalence at the lot of mothers (and because of a dearth of men who might make good fathers, to be fair). And because of the books I wanted to write.

Now I live that mothered life: answerable to all for faults I have never committed, and with my books unwritten.

Have a care, Colm Toibín, for those of us who try to be parents.

1 comment:

MDTaz said...

You write, "Now I live that mothered life: answerable to all for faults I have never committed, and with my books unwritten."

You've said it all.