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The Facts of Life by Graham Joyce (2003)

  1. 00
    Shadow of Ashland by Terence M. Green (Anonymous user)
    Anonymous user: Shares elements of family, history, and touches of fantasy.
  2. 00
    The Limits of Enchantment by Graham Joyce (Booksloth)
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Without trying too much to sound as though I'm dropping names, I want to tell you about my relationship with Graham Joyce, because without knowing that, you might not understand why this book means so much to me.

I first met Graham when we were working on an educational resources project in Derby in 1978. He had been studying in Derby, and was already becoming involved in the artistic world and the craft of writing. So when I mentioned that I had connections with the somewhat esoteric world of science fiction fandom and science fiction fanzines - something that in the popular imagination was only connected with punk rock or football - Graham was fascinated. I can honestly claim that I introduced Graham Joyce to the science fiction and fantasy community via fanzines. Little did I know at the time that this was going to be a major part of his professional life.

Our backgrounds were very similar. I was born in Nottingham in 1957 to parents who were progressing up the social ladder; my father was the son of a tenant farmer, whilst my mother was the daughter of a mineworker who was invalided out of Bolsover Colliery in the 1930s through a pit accident. I grew up in Derbyshire, in the semi-rural outskirts of Belper, a small mill town; was educated in a grammar school that was created by a philanthropic mill owner for the children of his workers (even though in later years it aped the manners of more prestigious public schools). I then worked in Derby; later, I moved for my job to Birmingham, and lived in the Warwickshire village of Fillongley, six miles outside Coventry. In more recent years, I have changed job again and now live and work in and about Leicester.

Graham was born in 1954 in the Warwickshire pit village of Keresley, the village next door but one to Fillongley. He came from a mining family. After working in Derby (and a brief period spent developing his writing in Greece), he moved to Leicester, where he settled down with a family and taught creative writing at Nottingham Trent University.

In other words, we moved in the same environment, the English East Midlands; our backgrounds were similar; our families were similar; and we moved in the same sort of social, employment and political circles. And that is why, when I opened this book, I was immediately in amongst people, situations and family histories that were familiar to me. Graham wrote this book about the sort of people he lived with, and grew up with, and worked with; and the people I lived with, grew up with and worked with were the same sort of people.

'The Facts of Life' concerns an extended matriarchal family, making their way in Coventry over a fifteen-year period from 1940 to the mid-1950s. From the outset, I had a vivid picture of the Vine family, their surroundings, the places they lived and the places they went to. Into this commonplace setting, Graham injected an element of the fantastic. The family matriarch, Martha Vine, experiences uncanny messengers who knock on her door and deliver messages that are pregnant with meaning. Her daughter Cassie, youngest of seven sisters, seems to have her own conduit to other realms, other realities; and her son, Frank, conceived on the night of the Coventry Blitz, seems to have inherited that sensibility.

The fantastical elements of the novel are an organic part of the whole; the reader only realises how fantastical they are after they have occurred. Graham drew on his own family experience here; again, I can corroborate this, as my own relatives and friends of my parents would sometimes recount experiences that defied explanation; Graham's examples seem a little more extreme, but only a little. My grandmother would speak of having lost a brother on the Somme in the First World War, and she always lived in hope of a knock on the door that would bring that brother back to her. It never came, but the hope was there, and if it had happened, it would have been a fantastical encounter wholly in line with those that Graham describes happening to Martha.

Other characters in the book have a similar immediacy and full-fleshed out nature. Cassie Vine moves between her sisters and their own growing families in the years of austerity immediately after the Second World War, and these scenes - a bohemian commune in Oxford, or a farm in the North Warwickshire countryside - are equally well-drawn with characters and situations that I identified with. Whilst at the farm, Cassie's son Frank encounters a mystical presence, the Man-Behind-the-Glass, which becomes a central part of his life. When the true nature of the Man-Behind-the-Glass is revealed, that revelation rings true and links back to themes of the war, and the land, and yet it is both fantastical and real at the same time. The answer to that identity had, of course, been there all along in the story, and yet Graham hid it from us, the readers, until the time was right for it to be revealed; and I gasped in amazement at how ingenious it was, and yet how obvious from what had gone before; yet it was something that only someone from that area would have really known about.

At other times in this book, I laughed out loud; and at the end, I wept. Throughout, I identified with the characters and the places in the book. Graham Joyce was writing about my people. I am only sad that I never got around to reading it whilst he was still alive, so that I could tell him these things and tell him how well he captured the lives, loves and experiences, both real and mystical, of a generation and a class so very little recognised in English literature. ( )
2 vote RobertDay | Mar 4, 2016 |
This story is set in the early years of WWII following the fortunes of Frank Vine, who was the result of a tryst between his mother, Cassie, and an American GI. Because Cassie is odd and unreliable, Frank is brought up alternately by his mother's six siblings and his grandmother. But his mother knows Frank is no ordinary child.
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
I would have liked this book more if I had read it before "The Limits of Enchantment."
It has most of the same elements: rural British life, a midwife whose traditional methods come into conflict with the National Health Service, an 'intellectual' commune where the reality fails to live up to the ideal, etc, etc.
I mean, it has so much of the Same Stuff that it's a little weird. I was trying to figure out if they were supposed to be connected in some way - but I don't think so.

This one adds in the Blitz, and a family of women, all coming together to raise a little boy who may or may not have special talents.

Where 'Limits' is a very personal story, centered on one character, this is an ensemble novel. I don't prefer ensemble stories - but I have to say, the format does point out Joyce's real talent for characterization. It's like watching a talented sketch artist - one line, two, three... and suddenly the likeness is there, to the life. ( )
  AltheaAnn | Feb 9, 2016 |
This excellent book follows a family in Coventry, England, both during and immediately after WWII. It especially tells the story of the little boy born to Cassie, the youngest and most flighty member of the family. The book contains elements of fantasy and history. ( )
  mhanderson | Sep 27, 2012 |
one of the most beutiful books ( )
  andja | Feb 18, 2009 |
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To my Mother and Father, who endured the Coventry blitz, and to all people who look at the rubble and start again
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"If she's not here, thinks Cassie, if she's not coming."
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743463439, Paperback)

Winner of the 2003 World Fantasy Award Graham Joyce chronicles a haunting, war-torn terrain in this heartrending novel of one family's quest to begin again -- without forgetting the lives they left behind.

The Facts of Life

Set in Coventry, England, during and immediately after World War II, The Facts of Life revolves around the early years of Frank Arthur Vine, the illegitimate son of young, free-spirited Cassie and an American GI. Because Cassie is too unreliable and unstable to act as his proper guardian -- and is prone to "blue" periods in which she wanders off without warning or recollection -- Frank is brought up in the care of his strong-willed, stout-drinking grandmother, Martha Vine, who has, among other homemaking talents, the untoward ability to communicate with the dead.

So begins the first decade of Frank's life, one in which ghosts have a place at the table and divine order dictates the outcome of his days. Along the way there are brief stays with each of his six eccentric aunts, visits to the local mortuary, and voices inside of his own head that suggest that he, too, has the gift of supernatural intuition. An affecting tale of family and history, war and peace, love and madness, The Facts of Life will leave readers spellbound with its resounding expression of magic realism.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:10:06 -0400)

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"The Facts of Life tells the story of the Vines, an extraordinary family of seven sisters living in Coventry during, and after, the second world war." "Presided over by an indomitable matriarch the sisters live out tangled and fraught lives built on loyalty and betrayal, love and frustration, fear and hope. Lives informed by family wisdom and sometimes harsh tradition." "From the hallucinatory horror of the night the Luftwaffe levelled Coventry, via the everyday tensions of a family just scraping through in wartime, to a bizarre interlude in a post-war communist collective, this is an evocative and affecting story of lives lived to the full." "And through it all wanders the young son of the youngest daughter. Never knowing his father he is passed from sister to sister. Frank is the innocent witness to a life that edges over from war into peace and from the mundane into the magical and the fey."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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