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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Father ! Father ! Burning Bright

Alan Bennett

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To purchase Father ! Father ! Burning Bright

Title: Father ! Father ! Burning Bright
Author: Alan Bennett
Genre: Story
Written: (1982)
Length: 94 pages
Availability: in: The Laying on of Hands - US
Father ! Father ! Burning Bright - UK
also in A Box of Alan Bennett - UK
Vater, Vater lichterloh - Deutschland
  • Father ! Father ! Burning Bright is the prose version of Bennett's 1982 TV script, Intensive Care
  • Written in 1982, Father ! Father ! Burning Bright was first published in the London Review of Books (9/12/1999)
  • First published in book form in 2000
  • In the American edition Father ! Father ! Burning Bright is published together with The Laying on of Hands (see our review)

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Our Assessment:

B+ : well-handled story of relationships

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The LA Times . 11/6/2002 Bernadette Murphy
The NY Times Book Rev. A 16/6/2002 Christopher Buckley
The Spectator B- 18/3/2000 Cressida Connolly

  From the Reviews:
  • "The humor throughout is caustic. (...) In taking pains to make sure we keep laughing, though, Bennett fails to get beyond this sitcom presentation to the real complexities beneath." - Bernadette Murphy, The Los Angeles Times

  • "If the situations sound dreary, they are, but Bennett can make cake out of clay." - Christopher Buckley, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Alan Bennett is not infallible and Father ! Father ! is pretty thin stuff: it needs his uniquely wry enunciation to bring out the best jokes and breathe some life into the characters. It may be only the dad who is dying but the supporting cast are low on oxygen, too. Not that it's not funny. (...) The trouble with this story is that there are too many characters, most of them with only walk-on parts: the length of the piece means that there is no room to give them flesh and blood." - Cressida Connolly, The Spectator

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Father ! Father ! Burning Bright tells the story of Midgley, a 39-year old teacher who, at the beginning of the tale, gets word that his father is in hospital, in serious condition. Midgley's father apparently suffered a stroke -- and wasn't found for two days. The prognosis is bad: Midgley's father isn't expected to last the night.
       Father and son never got along really well -- unlike his wife, Joyce. The father-son relationship is a complex one; Joyce has it much easier, able to "get on" with Frank (as she calls Midgley senior) because to her he is simply "a person", while her husband can only see him as a father. (Midgley thinks the reason his wife and father got along is a different one: "you get on because you both despise me.")
       Midgley does look towards his father's death as a sort of release: "I'll be a different person", he believes. But the shadow of his father weighs heavily on him, and release does not come easily. For one, Midgley's father doesn't die as quickly as expected. And there are a number of surprises as well.
       Bennett describes Midgley's vigil, and the various relatives who also come (and go). The scenes are sombre, absurd, and often funny -- and all ring fairly true to life. Bennett is very good with his characters -- and especially his dialogue. From Midgley's aunt to his wife to the hospital staff, Bennett manages to convey a great deal in this short space.
       Midgley wants to be there for his father when he goes, a sort of release from the never comfortable hold his father had on him. Even here, however, his father does his best to thwart him.
       Bennett provides a brief introduction to the story, explaining that it is a prose version of the TV screenplay that became Intensive Care, an effort "of finding more to the character" of Midgley. Bennett also mentions one of the pivotal events in the story here -- perhaps thinking readers will remember it from Intensive Care. It doesn't seem to be giving too much away, but at some point in the story it then does become obvious to readers exactly when it will occur. It wouldn't come as a total surprise or shock in any case, but it still seems a bit of a shame to have prepared readers for it so far beforehand. (The introduction also contains the somewhat sad observation that Bennett finally published the story almost two decades after writing it "as part of an effort to slim down my Nachlass and generally tidy up.")
       Father ! Father ! Burning Bright is full of detail and precise observation. With a few sentences or a single utterance Bennett pegs his characters. From the first observations about parents and students at Midgley's school through the fuss around the dying man, Bennett offers many marvelous bits, comic and clever.
       Father ! Father ! Burning Bright is only a story, without quite the heft or ambition of a full-scale novel, but within its smaller scale Bennett accomplishes a lot. Midgley, certainly, is nicely realized -- and the cast of characters around him serve for a great deal of entertainment. The story -- a small one, ultimately -- is also nicely rounded off. A fine little entertainment.

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Father ! Father ! Burning Bright: Alan Bennett: Other books by Alan Bennett under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review
  • See Index of Drama

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About the Author:

       British author, playwright, and actor Alan Bennett appeared in Beyond the Fringe and has written numerous highly acclaimed works.

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© 2002-2010 the complete review

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