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The Glass Castle - Jeannette Walls

In this memoir, Jeanette Walls tells the story of her childhood, travelling America with her highly intelligent, yet dysfunctional parents. Her mother was an artist and shunned any suggestion of 'normal' life within four permanent walls. Her father was a vibrant character when sober, who taught his children science, geography and maths, but when drunk, transformed into a gambling, thieving liar. Much of the time they were escaping in the middle of the night from some debt or misdemeanour of their father's. Sometimes he worked, but often it ended in tears.

 

I am always amazed at how resilient children can be. These four siblings pretty much raised themselves and frequently had more sense then their parents. When they did spend time in any one place it was generally in squalor, sleeping in cardboard boxes under leaking roofs, often not knowing where the next meal was coming from.

 

My enduring memory from the book was when Jeanette was asked by her father what she would like for her birthday and she replied that she wanted him to stop drinking - and he did it, at least for a while. He loved his children dearly, but he loved alcohol more. He was an inventor, always coming up with some new scheme that was going to make him huge amounts of money. Perhaps his greatest pipe-dream, was the Glass Castle of the title, the fantastic house, for which he'd drawn elaborate plans, but which never came to fruition.

 

Jeanette's mother was a complete screw-ball, I wonder if she was in some way mentally ill. She came from a wealthy family, and when things got particularly tough the family would go back and stay with the grandmother on her ranch. This was the childrens' only taste of luxury, with regular meals and a proper bed. Jeanette's mother inherited a fair amount of money and a house, on their grandmother's death, but very little changed in their way of life.

 

The ending was revealed at the start, so it's no spoiler to say that the mother ended up homeless by choice, a denouement that I would think unbelievable if I'd read it in a novel!
There is an interesting video on GoodReads, where the mother is interviewed, well worth a watch.