I was sorry to read about the death of Margaret Forster last week. I’ve always enjoyed her books, several of which I enjoyed listening to in the audio books read by Susan Jameson. I particularly loved her memoirs, Hidden Lives & Precious Lives, about her family. She was passionate about the importance of ordinary lives & her books explore the secrets that every family keeps. Although a very private person, Forster put a lot of her own experiences into her novels. I had no idea that she had suffered from breast cancer in the 1970s when I read her novel, Is There Anything You Want?, set in a cancer clinic & interweaving the stories of the women who go there. It was only in her last memoir, A Life in Houses, published last year, that she described her experiences, especially the haven that her home became as she recovered from treatment.
After reading about Forster’s death, I remembered that I’d bought Kathleen Jones’s short biography of Forster some time ago & hadn’t got around to reading it. It was originally written as an Arts Council commission & subsequently updated a few years ago. It’s an excellent introduction to Forster’s work, discussing all her books up to The Unknown Bridesmaid in 2013 as well as a biography. It also includes the covers of all the books & I loved seeing the very trendy 1960s cover art for her first novels, Dames’ Delight & The Bogeyman. Kathleen Jones has paid tribute to Forster on her blog here. I was also fascinated to read how she decided to write biography, especially her biography of Bonnie Prince Charlie, The Rash Adventurer, which I haven’t read, & her biographies of Elizabeth Barrett Browning & Daphne Du Maurier, which I loved & would love to reread.
There were many obituaries but here’s the one in The Guardian & an interview from Cumbria Life in 1999. I also listened to her appearance on Desert Island Discs in 1994 which can be heard here or downloaded as a podcast. She disliked music & preferred silence so her musical choices were surprising & quite moving as they were all pieces that reminded her of family or special times in her life. Forster’s husband, Hunter Davies, is a writer & journalist, famously writing several books about the Beatles. She chose Blackbird because it reminded her of that time in their lives & Send in the Clowns because her daughter used to play it on the clarinet on summer evenings.
There’s one more Margaret Forster novel to look forward to. How to Measure A Cow will be published next month.