This collection of poems tells a story about an imagined family. It is a partial, untidy, disjointed and contradictory story of human frailty and a precarious joy in life. There are gaps to be tolerated or filled with something from your own imagination.
When reviewers say that such-and-such a book is ambitious, they usually mean to imply that the ambition was not realised. But the collection is ambitious, and it achieves ambitious things. It’s an engaging family history that side-steps cliché (tin baths and coal-tar soap), avoids sentimentality (I remember when it were all fields); it’s beautiful poetry; and it’s a study of how women and children are dominated, physically and emotionally, by men; the messy, unpredictable effects of that; how it gets passed down, how it gets inherited and hasn’t just died out, and won’t just die out. It made me think of, made me suddenly more aware of, all sorts of things in my personal experience; made me look at them more harshly. All of this is a fantastic achievement.