There is an interesting piece in today’s Guardian about ‘misery lit’ the current craze for books about terrible childhoods. There is of course a market as Bill Bryson can tell you for books that are even about happy childhoods. Apart from raising questions about the state of the publishing commissioning process there is a wider point that can be made here about the obsession with childhood.
My one and only trip to a semi-psychoanalyst (forced on me by college lecturers who said it would provide an opt out for a late essay) started with the almost stereotypical discussion about my childhood. Had it been a happy time? Did I hate my mother, father or even both? Where did I see myself in the family circle? It all felt like something picked up from a television drama.
But obviously it is literary gold dust and maybe had I spent more time with her it would have been possible to draw on an untapped well of misery. For what it is worth my recollections, particularly of the teenage years, was that any misery was delivered at my own hands and had nothing to do with my parents. But we are all analysts now and no doubt the demand for miserable books about unbelievably bad childhoods will continue to thrive.