He That us Down Need fear No Fall.
By Bruce Arnold.
Published by Ashfield Press at 12.99 euro.
Published in The Irish Examiner. May 2008.
In this mesmerising memoir, Bruce Arnold tells of the love his father had for a teacher, Barbara Young; a love that lasted from 1951 until George Arnold’s death in 1975. The two never married. George had numerous, other affairs during this time, and he married and divorced twice. Yet the love between the two remained constant.
The teenage Bruce watched all this with increasing despair. He adored Barbara, and longed for the stability of her extended family, but he understood that his father’s precarious life and bouts of drinking made him a poor long term prospect.
Arnold could, so easily, have written a ‘misery memoir.’ His mother, who was never married to George, died when he was young; his father’s first marriage, and naval career having broken due to his unwise affair with his Admiral’s wife.
His brothers barely featured in his life, and his sisters were adopted. It was left to Bruce, as the favourite son, to look out for his father. And that was sometimes far from easy.
There are poignant moments. Arnold admits his frustration at the lack of stability away from boarding school.
‘I wanted an end to our peripatetic existence,’ he writes. ‘The uncertainty of it. The emotional impoverishment, the lack of friends…the sense of shame I felt at not having a permanent home and never knowing where I would be.’
Whist he longs for this; he never lays serious blame. Not only is this book a testament to George’s love for Barbara, told through their letters over the years. It’s a love letter from a son to his father too.
I loved the glimpses into Bruce Arnold’s teenage years. It’s wonderful to see how such a prominent man of words developed. Arnold shows us the passionate nature of teenage friendship; he shares his move from England to Trinity College Dublin; his student brush with the theatre; his early marriage to Mavis and his early career on The Irish Times.
We see the genesis for his early novels; and we share his, and Mavis’s devastation when their first child, Emma, dies suddenly.
In his prologue, Arnold says that when he thinks of his father, he does so ‘with laughter on his lips and tears in his eyes.’ Reading this sensitive portrait, the reader may well share these emotions.
© Sue Leonard. 2008. ends.