New Ways to Kill Your Mother is an amusing title and choosing it may have been Freudian, an Oedipal take on complex issues, but this behind the scenes look at the family relationships of literati makes good reading.
Colm Toibin, close observer of foibles and subtleties in relationships, writes with affection about the writers he has chosen for NWTKYM, Irish in the main for the first part. The political background is as riveting as the family tensions. Private letters reveal petty jealousies visited on gifted offspring and even between the ‘greats’, leaving a desire to revisit the work in the light of these personal disclosures and to read hitherto unknown (by me) work.
There is analysis of the way an author chooses to depict fathers and mothers, whether fictional or their own. Intentionally or not, the writer often reveals more of himself than of the parent, so it becomes a dramatisation of the secret self. Or, a wider relationship is revealed becoming a metaphor for political differences that divide families and foster betrayal especially when a country is divided by war.
Betrayal comes in many forms from denial of mother-tongue to enforcement of it, control of those deemed suitable companions, control of activities deemed suitable. But when a father betrays a son he violates the oldest law on earth. It may be a political statement but it underlines deep schism, a flaw of character or a national trait.
On reading NWTKYM a final piece in the jigsaw of a novel I’ve tried to write fell into place. I know the novel is about families and identity but I had not fully grasped, how much more it is about betrayal. What this says of my secret self, I am not sure.
The second part of the NWTKYM branches out into new ways to spoil your children. Fascinating.