Love Affair: The Memoir of a Forbidden Father-daughter Relationship by Leslie Kenton

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Love Affair: The Memoir of a Forbidden Father-daughter Relationship by Leslie Kenton

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Category: Autobiography
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: John Van der Kiste
Reviewed by John Van der Kiste
Summary: A painful yet understanding chronicle of Leslie Kenton's life with her parents and her family, in particular the incestuous relationship with her father Stanley, renowned for many years as a professional jazz musician.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 384 Date: February 2010
Publisher: Vermilion
ISBN: 978-0091910532

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For some years, I had been aware of Leslie Kenton's books on healthy living, and also of Stan Kenton's work as a jazz bandleader, though I had never made the connection until now. This family memoir reveals all about the famous father and later-to-be-famous daughter, and it is a disturbing tale.

Stanley (he was only Stan for professional purposes) was nearly 30 when his daughter was born in 1941. Although he was a talented and hardworking musician, composer and arranger, those closest to him recognised that he had an astonishing lack of belief in himself. This could apparently be laid at the door of his mother, who never ceased to have a kind of demonic power over him until Alzheimer's weakened her grip in the last years.

Stanley and Leslie were always close, sharing a passion for jazz and classical music and for the elements. She tells of how they would relish being out in the mountains above Los Angeles during fierce gales and rain, getting drenched to the skin and loving every minute of it while saner souls fled indoors.

Violet, Mrs Kenton, was frustrated at the way her husband had become public property, and stayed at home discontented while unwilling to join him on tour. Leslie, who idolised him, enjoyed being the daughter of a touring musician and happily went with him, but as she became older she became alarmed by the way his disintegrating marriage and the demands of his chosen career deprived him of sleep and left him increasingly dependent on alcohol, pills – and, eventually, her. They shared a bed, and one night not long after Violet divorced him, drunkenness took over. At the age of eleven, she tells us, like the shell of an oyster, I was prised open...in one moment, my entire existence becomes unglued. Hung over and dependent on Alka-Seltzer next morning, he growled at her not to come crying, as anything she got she must have asked for.

This went on for some time. She dealt with it by managing to black it out mentally, but she could never free herself of a sense of guilt and shame. In the foreword she writes – and I don't doubt for a minute that many readers of this review will probably argue angrily that this is nonsense – that if she only learned one thing from the years between her birth and her father's death, it was that we are each of us perpetrator and victim, the rapist and the raped, the torturer and the tortured. Yet she never hated her father, only pitied him. It was as if she was the only person he could trust and could regard as a confessor, respecting her opinions and confiding his insecurities.

Needless to say, she paid the price. One night she tried to take an overdose of pills, was discovered just in time and woke up in a hospital bed. Not long afterwards, her hated grandmother, seeing her son's life unravelling before her eyes, decided to fix Leslie by having her confined in a sanatorium where she was given ECT.

In spite of this seriously damaged adolescence she still managed to form relationships and have children, as well as forge a successful career in writing and cosmetics. She was in her early thirties before she could acknowledge that her fear of her father had gone, and that they could enjoy anything approaching a reasonably normal father-daughter relationship. But by then it was almost too late. Time was running out, for his increasing ill-health, a stroke and possibly an aneurism, gradually took their toll until he died in 1979.

Most victims of incest turn bitterly and unforgivingly on the instigator – and who can blame them? Leslie has come to terms with it, acknowledging that her father was an extraordinary personification of opposite qualities all at once. Even so, in her words, her dance with the dark continues. Whether she is being big-hearted and magnanimous towards him, or naive to an appalling degree – I won't be the judge. As I said at this start, this is a disturbing tale – but one which ought to be read.

Our thanks to Vermilion for sending Bookbag a copy for review.

On a similar theme, may we recommend two other memoirs in which family abuse is the central thread (and with very different consequences), Anne's Song by Anne Nolan, or How Could He Do It? by Emma Charles.

Buy Love Affair: The Memoir of a Forbidden Father-daughter Relationship by Leslie Kenton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Love Affair: The Memoir of a Forbidden Father-daughter Relationship by Leslie Kenton at Amazon.co.uk


Buy Love Affair: The Memoir of a Forbidden Father-daughter Relationship by Leslie Kenton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Love Affair: The Memoir of a Forbidden Father-daughter Relationship by Leslie Kenton at Amazon.com.

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