The Roehampton Readers participated in the CILIP Carnegie & Kate Greenway Children’s Book Awards as a shadowing group. Meeting at Roehampton University to discuss the books, their reviews were then posted to the shadowing site itself. Over this summer, we are sharing a selection of the reviews with you as part of the ongoing activity here at NCRCL. The Roehampton Readers group was coordinated by NCRCL PhD student, Kay Waddilove.
Review: Blood Family by Anne Fine
By Kay Waddilove
In this book Anne Fine explores a range of sensitive topics, from domestic violence and child neglect to addiction, foster care, social services and, in particular, the impact of family life, in a nature v nurture debate which is the over-arching theme of Blood Family.
Use of the multiple narrative voice allows Fine to offer the reader insights into Eddie’s situation that would not have been possible with the sole use of a first-person child narrator. The device also enables her to convey her ‘message’ without overt didacticism, although her ideological position is clear. In the maze of psychological and sociological scenarios she investigates, she invariably foregrounds the needs of the child, exploring how those needs, particularly the emotional ones, can be compromised, not only by outright abuse, but also by the well-intentioned interventions and unnecessary bureaucracy she describes.
Unlike some of Fine’s earlier depictions of problematised family life – in Goggle-Eyes (1989) or Flour Babies (1992) for example – which utilised a comedic approach to make serious points, Blood Family explores the nature of good and evil in a largely non-humorous style more reminiscent of her award-winning The Tulip Touch (1996). Fine takes a balanced approach in her representation of family dynamics; the binary opposition of Bryce Harris and Mr Perkins as paternal figures is rounded out by the flawed but Winnicotian ‘good-enough’ parenting offered by adoptive father Nicholas and foster father Alan, while the sadly inadequate Lucy is counterpointed by the warm and motherly Linda, and the somewhat less devoted, but still caring and responsible Natasha.
I do feel however that this is a ‘book of two halves’, and that the first part leading up to Eddie’s traumatic discovery of his true parentage is far stronger than the second. Once Eddie becomes Edward, the author’s description of his descent into alcoholism, homelessness and violence, while necessary in order to demonstrate the effects of early abuse, becomes more overtly didactic and thus, ironically, less ideologically effective. There is a loss of pace, and the narrative voices lack individuation; certainly the voice of the psychotherapist in Section V is hampered by over-exposition, and Fine’s outstanding gift as a writer who prefers ‘showing’ to ‘telling’ is less evident in the final sections of the book.
Nevertheless, this is an interesting book, which is easy to read due to the short ‘chapters’, varied narrative voices and Fine’s accessible style. Although the age recommendation on the Carnegie website is 14 years plus, I think that Fine is correct to assert in an interview that most children of 11 plus would be aware of the issues involved and able to deal with her analysis of them. And she is careful to balance her account, as noted above, and end on a note of hope. Blood Family was originally conceived as a single title with an earlier thriller, recounting the effects of 19th century child neglect and written as a Gothic novel. The Devil Walks (2011) – worth reading as a companion to this title – is referenced in the title of Eddie’s The Devil Ruled the Roost, and the opening sentence of this ‘book’ (p128) is virtually identical to the actual opening sentence of The Devil Walks (p3). And for a similar (but lighter-touch and very amusing) account of the effects of poor parenting set in both contemporary and historical periods, try Fine’s Step by Wicked Step (1995).