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Hidden Lives: A Family Memoir by Margaret…
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Hidden Lives: A Family Memoir

by Margaret Forster

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I have had this book for a few years now, but had put off reading it because I was worried it might be a rather staid biography. However, this was not the case at all, and I found it an absolutely compelling read from start to finish.

It's basically a memoir of the author Margaret Forster's grandmother and mother, with a bit of her own life thrown in too. The history of these lives alone would have interested me, but she also considers the difference in the lives of women from her grandmother's and mother's eras, when they were tied to the home and had to give up their jobs if they got married and had children. Margaret was determined she wouldn't end up like that and of course, in the 1950s and 60s she had the ability to ensure that she didn't.

Being a novelist, the author managed to really bring the people in this book to life, and I think it was this above all else that really made the book such a great read for me. I felt such interest in what was happening in their lives, and became fully engrossed in them. I now plan to go on to read Precious Lives which is the memoir of her father.

Hidden Lives is superb. If you are interested at all in social history, family secrets and interesting lives then this is a great book to read. I really can't recommend it highly enough. ( )
  nicx27 | Mar 24, 2011 |
When I grabbed this book from BookMooch I didn't realise it was non fiction. I was expecting one of Forster's novels which seem to revolve around the themes of mothers and daughters and dying. This memoir gives you an idea how Forster ended up concentrating on those themes as it looks into the lives of her mother and her grandmother before her. The book is always heading towards the inevitable conclusion that women's lives have got better over the last century so the "plot" isn't spoilt by the fact that you know the third generation is going to get away from the Carlisle council estate and become a famous writer. This book had me totally hooked and I barely put it down from start to finish. What I found very well done is how convincingly the story has been told going forwards chronologically. When you look into family history you always know the end of the story before the beginning. Forster has managed to tell the early parts of her mother and grandmother's lives without bringing in all the baggage form the ends of their lives.
  nocto | Dec 8, 2010 |
I'm giving this one 4-stars in an effort to moderate my somewhat inflated LT star ratings. The memoir genre is one of my favorites, I've read a lot of them, and this one stands out for me. Margaret Forster (born 1938) is an English biographer and novelist. I've read only two of her other books, but both of them were memorable: a biography of Elizabeth Barrett Browning and a novel about Browning's maid, Lady's Maid.

Hidden Lives is about the female side of Forster's family--maternal grandmother, mother, aunts--and how Forster interacts with all of them. Her grandmother evidently went to great lengths to hide the first 23 years of her life, which probably had much to do with a daughter who was apparently born out of wedlock: "Twenty-three years old. . . If I suppressed the first twenty-three years of my own life it could never properly be understood by me or anyone else. If I knew nothing of the first twenty-three years of my mother's life I could not possibly understand her. . . ." How frustrating, particularly for a biographer, to have such a gap in her own family history .

I was very engaged with the first and last third of the book, the first third where she writes about the mystery of her grandmother and her efforts to solve it, the last third where, as an adult, she is dealing with her mother who is increasingly expressive about her own disappointing life. The middle third dragged for me somewhat, with Foster giving copious detail about her own childhood and young adulthood--thus the 4-stars. ( )
  labwriter | Mar 18, 2010 |
This memoir is an account of the lives of Forster's grandmother, born in 1869, and mother, born in 1901, but is surely representative of the lives of many working-class women throughout the last half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries. Forster's grandmother, Margaret Ann, is raised from mysterious beginnings and life as a domestic servant to a position as respected housewife and mother. Lilian, after her, enjoys opportunities and comforts her mother never had, but the strains and hardships of her life serve as an impetus for young Margaret to make the most of her education, still seen at this point as a waste of time for girls, and escape Carlisle.

Forster says, as she draws the book to a conclusion: 'I can't understand my own history unless I understand my grandmother's, my mother's and that of the women like them...' And, in one sense, I can see that she has written this book for own benefit. Yet, at more or less two generations younger, I can relate to Margaret's desire for a more fulfilled and less constrained life than the women before her. (I'm thinking more of my grandmother than my mother, although I've clearly benefited from the changes that have occurred since my mother came of age.)

This is truly a book that makes you think and appreciate what you have.
  Rebeki | Dec 17, 2009 |
Forster has an extraordinary tendency to make her first-person narrators unsympathetic. She shows this here, and in "Over" , "The battle for Christabel" and "The Memory Box". ( )
  KayCliff | Dec 24, 2008 |
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