I’ve written before about Zoe Fairbairns but the only book of hers I actually possess is Daddy’s Girls, which I picked up this week when thinking about our book group theme of brothers and sisters. I’ve really enjoyed rereading it, although it has provided a couple of surprises. First of all, although I must have read it first less than ten years ago, I had remembered very little of the detail. Basically in a chunky novel of over 500 pages, the only things to stick in my mind were the opening chapters (not even the first denouement!) and a later section set in a university town exactly like St. Andrews (where Fairbairns, like me, was a student). As a result the reread has been a fresh and interesting experience, but also made me wonder how many of the books I have read have sunk without trace, or left only the tip of an iceberg poking into my memory.
Daddy’s Girls starts with sixties teenage rebellion and chronicles the development of feminism, ending with abortion rallies and Greenham Common. Told mainly through the eyes of three sisters, its real focus is the mother, Jo, whose chronic self-effacement and refusal to face the truth about her bullying and philandering husband is played out in the lives of her three daughters. It does wave a very obvious feminist flag (which deceived me into thinking it was written earlier than 1992) but the strong (or weak!) characters and hilarious family scenes save it from polemicism. It’s particularly scathing on the notorious (and thinly disguised) St. Andrews Tory Club, and also on the role of housework, depicted both as a tool of subjugation but also a ‘place of safety’ (along with comfort eating) for women who won’t face up to change.
In election week, Daddy’s Girls has been a useful reminder of the issues faced by women of our own and our mothers’ generations. As I begin my training for Citizens’ Advice work, it will be interesting to observe the difficulties faced by women of today.