William Miller is the son of polymath Jonathan Miller, and his neighbours in the leafy London street of Gloucester Crescent included Alan Bennett, George Melly, AJ Ayer and many representatives of the liberal intelligentsia of the 1960s and 70s. This biography is a fascinating document of what it was like to grow up in that community, where everyone slipped in and out of each other’s houses and the children were largely left to their own devices while their parents pursued “big ideas”. Miller doesn’t paint a very flattering portrait of his dad, who comes across as self-absorbed, high-handed, irritable, pompous and dogmatic. Small wonder that some, like William, yearned for a more conventional life. Recounting how he coped with bullying at school and eventually chose to pursue his own dreams rather than his father’s, this is a family memoir which also sheds light on a group of people who were, in their time, a prominent and influential cultural force.
Serpent’s Tail, £8.99
As children, they were a gang of latchkey kids in Buffalo, upstate New York, who played in an abandoned house and called themselves “the Gunners” after the name on the mailbox. Now aged 30 and scattered across the country, they’ve reunited for one night only, brought back together by the suicide of their friend, Sally. It was Sally who heralded the end of the Gunners by breaking off contact with the rest of them, and in their need to understand why she took her own life we find that they all, in one way or another, feel complicit. As they get into confessional mode with each other, and their secrets and vulnerabilities come to the surface, Kauffman shows that the group’s mutual empathy and support is still there after all they’ve been through in the intervening years. It’s a poignant reflection on friendship that’s all the better for Kauffman’s unselfconscious simplicity and willingness to appeal directly to the hearts of her readers.
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Dead Ink, £11.99
Now living in New York, Norwegian ex-pat Laura Fjellstad has suffered years of chronic pain, allergies and endometriosis. We meet her as a newly-divorced 36-year-old mother trying to live as full and balanced a life as she can in her circumstances, and Havelin proceeds to tell Laura’s story in reverse, working backwards from 2016 to when she was a 15-year-old figure skater in Norway, enjoying the freedom of the ice. An unflinching novel about living with pain, Havelin’s debut draws on her own experience to show Laura’s determination to be independent and self-reliant and her struggle to live, love and work without being limited or defined by the condition that has disrupted and medicalised her life. Up-ending the structure of a conventional illness memoir offers an illuminating view of chronic conditions which isn’t about finding meaning, metaphor, catharsis or an eventual cure, but an honest and relatable story of the unending daily reality of living with constant pain.