A Life Like Other People's was lent to me by a work colleague with the phrase "he couldn't put it down once he started it" - definite praise. I had read Bennett's fiction, The Uncommon Reader last year and loved it and this biography of his parent's marriage and the life of their family was no exception - a beautiful, haunting read.
A Life Like Other People's is the core of Bennett's memoir, Untold Stories and it's focus is really on his parent's marriage and relationship but also the increasing episodes of depression his mother experiences when Bennett himself is middle aged. Bennett's writing is honest and stark - his descriptions of events clear and vivid and his reflections of his own behaviour and thoughts around particular events are introspective and telling. The title of the book comes from the feeling that the Bennett family was always a little bit apart from other families in their area - both in action and thought. Bennett himself felt this difference as a child and reflects on it now as an adult. What I found interesting is that the Bennett family was probably very similar to many other families of the era in lots of different ways - they had their family secrets (one in particular that Bennett discovers in the process of his mother being hospitalised for the first time for her depression) just as I am sure many other families did.
Bennett's reflections on the treatment of people with a mental illness and the elderly is a particular strong point of the book:
A life varies in social importance. We set most value on the life of a child.
Aunty Kathleen's life was at its lowest point of social valuation. She was seventy-three. She was senile. She was demented, and she was of no class or economic importance.
It is Bennett's writing that turns a fairly simple family story into an addictive and compelling read. I can't wait to read more.