Wakefield Press, $39.95 hb, 351 pp
Jill Golden’s Inventing Beatrice is a fictionalised account of the life of her mother, Beatrice (or B). This is life writing at its most precarious, right out there on the borderline of ‘fact’ and the ‘inventing’ of the title. Is it a novel or a biography? The media release labels it a novel but concedes that it ‘crosses the genres of biography and autobiography, fiction and non-fiction, speaking in several voices’. What is certain is that the point of view, and of judgment, is constantly shifting as the narrator sets out to unravel the enigma of her mother’s emotional frigidity and to find out the real circumstances of a childhood that, she feels, has destroyed her. Why did B send her three small daughters – the youngest only eight months old – away from home for more than five long years? They spend this time in foster care, then boarding school.
It is only after B’s death, when the narrator discovers an improbably detailed and comprehensive cache of letters and diaries, that she begins to reconstruct the past. It is not clear how much of the ‘evidence’ is tangible, how much is fiction; the title and a number of disclaimers certainly suggest the latter. A mixture of narration and commentary, excerpts from diaries and letters (true or false), interviews with B’s friends from the past, and a long section in the first person, entitled ‘Beatrice Speaking’, are intended to disclose the ‘truth’ of B’s behaviour. The question remains. Is B the product of her treatment by two arch-manipulators – her father, then her husband – or is she herself in some way accountable?