SECOND OPINION: Cousins by Salley Vickers

Review published on December 5, 2017.

This novel tells the story of three generations of the Tye family, from the perspective of three women. The focus of their recollections are two tragedies that have haunted the family over the years. Will’s sister Hetta decides to document the events that led to his catastrophic accident in 1994 and its aftermath, from her memories, her diaries, and what she has subsequently been told. She asks her aunt Bell and her grandmother Betsy to do the same, thereby covering the period from the 1920s to the present. One woman who is central to the novel, but whose voice we do not hear directly, only through the observations of others, is that of Cele, cousin to Will. The relationship between all the cousins, and between Betsy and her husband Fred (also first cousins), is a thread that runs throughout the novel.

The surname of the family ‘Tye’ is significant as the ties that bind them all in various ways, and also alienate them, are explored. Gradually, you build up your knowledge of the history of this family. From their different perspectives the women all try to explain why Will and his uncle Nat behaved as they did and what it was in the family history that led to these events. It is a novel full of people experiencing and living with guilt and regret. The author is a psychoanalyst and writes with analytical precision about people’s reactions to their own behaviour, their emotions and to each other. The author’s acute observations make fascinating reading, but I also felt quite detached from her characters, particularly the men, some of whom are troubled souls and appear unfeeling in their attitudes to the women. The women explain away their imperfections and love them, are ‘tied’ to them despite their behaviour. The women are by no means perfect either! Perhaps the author has created this distance intentionally, through the device of their recollections, written down after the passage of time. This was a very good personal read, and I recommend it also for reading groups as there is so much to discuss – in the writer’s style, the content of the novel and the issues that it raises.

Adie Batt 5/5

Cousins by Salley Vickers
Penguin 9780241972298 pbk Jun 2017

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