With Thoughts on ‘Not My Father’s Son’ by Alan Cumming
I was diverted again this past week or two… pleasantly, though. I was supposed to be reading Words in Deep Blue by Cath Crowley (my apologies to the lovely folk at Pan Macmillan, who sent me a review copy). I did start it, and I will ABSOLUTELY continue it.
But I made a mistake, and that was to pick up another book to read on the train. I have found that I cannot read more than one book at a time. I have tried. I really can’t. I am a one book woman, and last week my book was Alan Cumming’s Not My Father’s Son.
I remember reading about this memoir when it was first released, but although I was intrigued, at the time my attitude toward biographies was… I’ll say ambivalent.
Fortunately, I did not forget it, and I acquired the book as part of this year’s non-fiction project. I came back to it because Cumming appears to be genuinely lovely. The cover also features an endorsement from Stephen Fry, whom I worship a little.
‘Not My Father’s Son’ was prompted by Cumming’s appearance on the TV show Who Do You Think You Are? It recounts the filming of the episode, as he unpicks the enigma that was his maternal grandfather, a WWII veteran who died in strange circumstances in Malaysia. I love a genealogical mystery (having spent some time clambering around my own family tree), and have faint memories of watching the episode, though I’d forgotten the ending.
However, Cumming’s WDYTYA story – while fascinating and in places devastating – is really the lesser part of the book. At the time of the episode, he had been estranged from his father for more than a decade. The night before filming began, he received a message, in which his father claimed that Alan was not his son.
‘Not My Father’s Son’ is about Cumming dealing with this revelation, and with the legacy of a childhood spent in terror of an unpredictable and physically violent man. It is not easy reading, but Cumming is a gentle and insightful narrator. At two points (I will not say which) I was almost brought to tears. This always secures a book a permanent place on my bookshelf. I now feel guilty for not returning to it sooner.
Now, back to ‘Words in Deep Blue’. I’m anticipating tears over that book, as well. Tissues, anyone? Keep an eye out for a review.