Did You Ever Have A Family? (Book 7 for the (Wo)Man Booker Prize)


Another book about family in the long list for the Booker. But, Did You Ever Have a Family? stands out as especially piercing. I thought I would be too vulnerable to read it, for the pain I’ve experienced in my life over losing my first husband; for the pain I’m enduring now while trying to help my son through a particularly rough patch in his life. That isn’t the case. Instead, I am fortified by the reminder that no family is perfect, and, in fact, many suffer. I’m strengthened by the story of June, the only surviving member of her family after they are lost in an explosion from the faulty stove.

“For most of that night I was awake, wondering at it all, the pattern that seemed to emerge when I laid out every fluke and chance encounter, puzzling through all the possible signs and meanings; but any trace of a design disintegrated when I remembered the chaos and brutality of the world, the genocide and the natural disasters, all the agony. I never felt so small, so humbled by the vastness of the universe and the fragility of life.” (p. 113)

I have lain awake like that, reviewing words said and deeds done, going back over them as if there were any chance they could be redone. That there could be a different outcome. The futility amazes me.

Did You Ever Have a Family? is not a futile story, though. Clegg offers us hope and forgiveness. Through our suffering we may be able to help others. Through that premise, our pain can be worked for good, which is such a redeeming factor.


Now off to read The Chimes by Anna Smaill. You can follow the Shadow Jury, if you choose, at #ShadowWoManBooker. The Man Booker short list is to be announced on Tuesday, September 15, for which I am already forming my top three favorites.