The Three of Us” by Julia Blackburn – a memoir of a difficult childhood

The Three of Us by Julia Blackburn is a memoir which told me two things. Firstly, that I don’t appreciate my uneventful upbringing enough and secondly that some people are really not cut out to be parents.

Julia’s father Thomas was a poet who was wrapped up in his work and addicted first to alcohol and then to pills. He had little time for his daughter and when he divorced her mother he moved mostly out of her life at the time. Julia grew up with her mother who sought a life of enjoyment and love at the expense of her daughter. She moved serial men in to live with the family and eventually became jealous of her daughter who she thought was competing with her for their attention and love. When one of them died by suicide she felt that Julia was responsible and became estranged from her.

Neither of Julia’s parents appeared to care for her at all or to understand that she was an individual with her own needs and desires. They placed no barriers on her childhood and were open to sexual experimentation). Julia became a functioning adult in spite of them although she is clear that many of her life decisions were as a result of her childhood. By the time that Julia reached adulthood her relationship with both parents was shattered. I have seen her parents described in reviews and praise as “Bohemian” and “eccentric” but in my view, for what it’s worth, they were self-obsessed, broken and emotionally abusive – you feel that had they belonged to another class that Julia would have been removed from the house by Social Services.

An older Julia began to develop a career as a writer and to re-establish some links with her parents including having her mother to stay when she was in the last stages of her life. It is satisfying to see that relationships can be mended even if not everything can be forgotten and it is a tribute to the fact that even a difficult childhood can be overcome.

This is a well written and excellent memoir. Similar books I have read include Bad Blood by Lorna Sage, Educated by Tara Westover, Too Many Mothers by Roberta Taylor, The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls, Heartland by Sarah Smarsh (reviewed here ) and In the Days of Rain by Rebecca Stott (reviewed here ). It appears that I enjoy a good memoir about a difficult childhood !

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