Friday, 4 September 2015

A must for Betty Macdonald fans

Much Laughter, a Few Tears: Memoirs of a Woman's Friendship With Betty Macdonald and Her FamilyMuch Laughter, a Few Tears: Memoirs of a Woman's Friendship With Betty Macdonald and Her Family by Blanche Caffiere
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Against expectation, I loved this book. I didn’t think I would before I started it. Indeed I was a couple of chapters in before I realised quite how good it was going to be. Like many Betty Macdonald fans, I imagine, what I wanted from this book was some insight into Betty Macdonald’s life. Having just read one of Mary Bard’s books with the same motivation and been disappointed, and having read a review of Blanche Caffiere’s book which dismissed it as self-indulgent irrelevance, my expectations were low. They shouldn’t have been. That review was rubbish.

Blanche Caffiere writes well, tells the story of how her life interwove with the Bards in general and Sydney, Betty and Mary in particular. I know that Betty Macdonald spun her story partly at the behest of her publishers (Bob for example in the final version of The Egg and I was painted essentially as a good guy; the wives routinely used as punchbags by drunken husbands were people she knew and not her); her leaving her husband was a brief but dramatic sequence at the start of Anybody Can Do Anything – Blanche tells what sounds like a more likely scenario: Mary Bard drove out to the farm at a time she knew Bob would not be there and helped Betty to pack before driving her and her two daughters back to the family home in the city.

In fact one of the things that Blanche Caffiere’s account does is to paint Mary Bard as the truly amazing person she clearly was. It does likewise for their mother Sydney including the story of how she came to be called Sydney. Their unique qualities come across in Betty Macdonald’s accounts, although not in Mary’s own writings, but Sydney was her mother, Mary was her sister; there’s an element of ‘she would say that, wouldn’t she’ when it’s Betty. From Blanche it comes across differently.

Blanche Caffiere tells her own story as well as that of her interactions with the Bards, but partly because her own story was largely influenced by Mary and Betty, and partly because she tells it well, it drew me in. I became interested in what happened to her as well as what happened to Mary Bard (in a way I hadn’t when reading Mary’s writing) and of course, Betty.

An absolute must for genuine Betty Macdonald fans.

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