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2015 Man Booker Longlist: Did You Ever Have a Family Bill Clegg


Several months ago, Book Worm and I tried to make our way through the 2015 Man Booker Longlist books. Book Worm finished Did You Ever Have a Family a while ago and has been patiently waiting on me so we could post a joint review. Now I’m done. Find out what we both thought about his book and let us know what you thought.

Did you Ever Have a Family by Billy Clegg
Nominated for the 2015 Man Booker Award (long list)
Published in: 2015
Reviewed by: Book Worm and Jen
Find it/buy it here: Did You Ever Have A Family

Synopsis (from Amazon): On the eve of her daughter’s wedding, June Reid’s life is completely devastated when a shocking disaster takes the lives of her daughter, her daughter’s fiancé, her ex-husband, and her boyfriend, Luke—her entire family, all gone in a moment. And June is the only survivor.

Alone and directionless, June drives across the country, away from her small Connecticut town. In her wake, a community emerges, weaving a beautiful and surprising web of connections through shared heartbreak.

From the couple running a motel on the Pacific Ocean where June eventually settles into a quiet half-life, to the wedding’s caterer whose bill has been forgotten, to Luke’s mother, the shattered outcast of the town—everyone touched by the tragedy is changed as truths about their near and far histories finally come to light.

Elegant and heartrending, and one of the most accomplished fiction debuts of the year, Did You Ever Have a Family is an absorbing, unforgettable tale that reveals humanity at its best through forgiveness and hope. At its core is a celebration of family—the ones we are born with and the ones we create.

Book Worm’s Review:
5 stars
So we all know this one didn’t make the Shortlist and I would probably agree with that decision. However, this is one of my favourite books from the Man Booker Longlist and in my normal rating system it would be a 5 star read. Because I read this a while ago, I used the rating system we used for ranking our choices of Man Booker nominees:

Available in English 1 / 1
Published in the UK 1 / 1
Originality 4 / 8
Character Complexity 5 / 5
Writing Quality 5 / 5
Total 16/20

I gave the book average marks for originality because I would classify it as a family saga and it seems like at least half of the books on the long list were family sagas. I liked the changing narrators — each one revealing a little more of the mystery surrounding the explosion, revealing how that character had ended up where they were when the novel opened. I also loved the small town background and the way that no one would let the truth get in the way of a good story.

I awarded full marks for character complexity as each one was fully rounded, realistic and flawed.

I awarded full marks for writing quality as the author wrote convincingly from both male and female perspectives and managed to convey the joy of being in love as well as the grief of losing those closest to you, and not just through death. Need I mention that I cried several times while reading?

This may not be an award winner but that doesn’t stop it being a great read.

Jen’s Review: 
4 stars
This book was the featured book in my last Indiespendables box (you can read about that service here). I regret that it took me so long to get to because when I finally began, I enjoyed it so much that I finished it in a day.

How do you go on living after an event leaves you alone and devastated? Did you Ever Have a Family is a wonderful book that tries to answer that question through the use of multiple narrators. Each one contribute small pieces to the puzzle behind what happened on that fateful night. As mentioned in the synopsis above, a fire breaks out in June’s house killing her boyfriend, ex-husband, daughter, and daughter’s fiancee on the day before her daughter’s wedding (this is not a spoiler as it happens in the first chapter). Each character shares details that slowly come together to reveal a full picture that is full of heartache but, at the same time, inspires hope.

Like Book Worm, I really liked this novel. The topic is a dramatic one, but Clegg writes with such restraint that the story shines through in a subtle and undramatic way. This is not a book that constantly hits you over the head with the tragedy but rather unfolds in a way that leaves you emotionally impacted in a very deep way.

I want to take a few minutes to contrast Clegg’s approach in this story to Yanagihara’s approach in A Little Life. I loved a Little Life (you can read my review here) but fully acknowledge that Yanagihara’s novel repeatedly hits you over the head with trauma after trauma in a way that, at times, feels emotionally manipulative. In contrast, Clegg’s book has a trauma (albeit of a very different nature) but rather than making you repeatedly relive it, Clegg slowly draws you in to a story that ultimately is about the characters. Whereas A Little Life is about how life can’t recover from certain things, Did you Ever Have a Family suggests that people can recover from trauma. Both books made me cry but in different ways. I sobbed like a hysterical lunatic when reading A Little Life. I cried quietly and reflectively when reading Did you Ever Have a Family. Clegg’s novel made me think about my own family and made me feel appreciative for the little moments in life that we all have together.

As Book Worm mentioned above, character development is wonderful in this novel. Clegg illustrates the complexity of people, highlighting their good and bad qualities. Through use of multiple narrators we see how events are perceived differently from a variety of viewpoints and us such we are better able to empathize with the central characters.

I highly recommend this novel.

Want to try it for yourself? You can buy your copy here: Did You Ever Have A Family

We want to hear from you! Have you read this book? What did you think? 

6 Comments Post a comment
  1. Ooh, I love a slow burning narrative with really good characterisation. Great review! I’m going to add this one to my TBR. I’ve read so shameful few of the Booker long and short lists this year : s

    Liked by 1 person

    December 9, 2015
  2. Aha, now I have to read this…. We are reading A Little Life for our January book group – so will attempt to follow your lead and read this alongside to contrast and compare. Thanks so much for your joint reviews – this might have been left to one side otherwise and does sound like an excellent read. x

    Liked by 1 person

    December 9, 2015
  3. Tracy S #

    Now higher up on my TBR, and I’m really looking forward to it!

    Liked by 1 person

    December 10, 2015
  4. I liked this book but I agree with Book Worm that it doesn’t score full marks for originality. I think I might have preferred it if there hadn’t been so many character perspectives too.

    Liked by 1 person

    December 13, 2015

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