The Unspoken Truth by Angelica Garnett

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The Unspoken Truth by Angelica Garnett

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Luci Davin
Reviewed by Luci Davin
Summary: Four beautifully written, atmospheric stories about childhood, growing up and old age, and about changing relationships and friendships.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 296 Date: January 2010
Publisher: Chatto and Windus
ISBN: 978-0701184353

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I would not normally start a review with the biography of the author, but The Unspoken Truth is presented as autobiographical fiction by a child of the Bloomsbury Group – in fact the subtitle is A Quartet of Bloomsbury Stories. The blurb on the inside cover even identifies which character is based on the author in each of the four stories, just in case we are not sure.

Angelica Garnett is the daughter of Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, though she was brought up believing that her mother's husband Clive Bell was her father, until she was rather suddenly told the truth. Her aunt was Virginia Woolf. As a child she grew up surrounded by the conversations of her intellectual and creative family. She married young to a much older man, David Garnett, who seems to have been obsessed with her family. She published a memoir, Deceived by Kindness in 1984.

When All The Leaves Were Green, My Love is the story which is most obviously what I was led to expect from the subtitle and inside cover blurb, about a young girl's childhood in a very intellectual family. It is quite a sad story – Bettina craves more love and affection than she gets. Her brothers are much older and she seems to feel a bit stupid and laughed at. This story was beautifully written but the language, the concepts and the long flowing sentences made it hard to believe in as being about the thoughts and feelings of such a young girl (about eight or nine).

I found the other stories in the book a much more interesting read than the first one. At over 150 pages Aurore is a memoir-novella about a young woman who wants to experience Paris and goes to live with a couple there – she develops a lasting friendship with Gilles and Juliana, and later their daughter Aurore. Agnes (Garnett) tells the story in the first person, and it is about Agnes as much as about her friends, but this fits in well with the character of a self-absorbed adolescent.

The blurb suggests that Garnett is at the centre of the short story The Birthday Party as the character Emily, but actually this short story (first published in 1998) is about a very old man – perhaps Garnett (now in her 90s) identifies with Mischa who is isolated by others' attitudes to his old age.

Friendship is another story about a woman's friendship with a couple, but unlike Agnes, Helen is a lot older than her friends.

I like Garnett's prose style and thought there was more to these stories than autobiographical pieces about being a child of the Bloomsbury set. I would like to read her memoir Deceived with Kindness, her only other published book. Thank you to the publishers for sending a copy to the Bookbag.

Another memoir about growing up in a literary family is My Father's Places by Aeronwy Thomas. Janice Galloway's Collected Stories are about similar themes.

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