Also by this author

Mother: A Memoir

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'A tender and graceful study of parents and children, and a finely judged and measured attempt to capture the flitting, quicksilver shapes of what we keep and what we lose: the touch, the tone, the gaze of the past as it fades. It is a moving and beautifully achieved memoir, and a testament to the writer’s skill and generosity of spirit.'—Hilary Mantel

imageRead an extract

Before the devastating ‘loss of her marbles’, Mrs Royle, a nurse by profession, is a marvellously no-nonsense character, an autodidact who reads widely and voraciously, swears at her fox-hunting neighbours, and instils in the young Nick a love of literature and of wildlife that will form his character and his career.

In this touching, funny and beautifully written portrait of family life, mother-son relationships and bereavement, Nicholas Royle captures the spirit of post-war parenting as well as of his mother whose dementia and death were triggered by the tragedy of losing her other son—Royle’s younger brother—to cancer in his twenties.

At once poetic and philosophical, this extraordinary memoir is also a powerful reflection on climate crisis and ‘mother nature’, on literature and life writing, on human and non-human animals, and on the links between the maternal and memory itself.

Martin Chilton, Independent 5 star review

5 May 2020

Mother: A Memoir by Nicholas Royle ★★★★★

Author Nicholas Royle says that “more than anything else” he wanted to “evoke my mother’s voice” in this touching memoir. From an outside perspective, he does this impeccably with his tender, moving book about his late mum Kathleen, a former district NHS nurse. “Her primary passion was for the spirit of free universal healthcare,” says Royle. Mother: A Memoir is a tribute to all in life that is witty, modest and caring.

Kathleen was a complex woman, was patient and gentle yet capable also of fireworks. After the family moved from suburban Cheam to Devon, she took her son totally by surprise during a drive through their village by stopping her car, winding down the window and yelling “you silly cunt!” at a local woman who supported fox hunting. How’s that for an indelible childhood memory?

Royle’s mother enjoyed gardening, crossword puzzles and listening to Elgar. She was a voracious reader, who would always begin a novel by reading the final page. She was left wing. She and her son read aloud from the Telegraph letters page, finding hilarity in the strident opinions.

The book contains sweet black and white family photographs, which add a poignancy to the memoir, bringing to mind Philip Larkin’s poem “Home is So Sad”, about the withering effects of time. Royle is also astute about his own childhood and the experience of growing up watching Gary Glitter and Jimmy Savile on television, leaving him with “the eerie retrospect of having watched paedophiles and other gruesome abusers entertain us”.

There is terrible grief at the core of the story, because Kathleen’s other son Simon was killed by cancer in 1986, when he was just 26. The 151-word chapter “Simon” captures the howling grief which by degrees sent his mother mad. Royle does his brother proud, bringing a gentle focus to what the world is deprived of when any kind young person dies. You can’t help but smile at the tale of Simon’s expulsion from school for, among other bizarre reasons cited by the headmaster, “thinking that he is an eagle”. The revelation of how Royle’s taciturn ageing father showed his feelings for his dead son – patting a clay owl Simon had made as a child on his way up to bed each night – filled my eyes with tears. Life itself is a ghost story, Royle remarks.

The deft presentation of a once impressive woman who knows “she is losing her marbles” is painful to read because we see the decline so clearly. Royle knows this is a common experience and shares a grimly funny anecdote from a friend whose mother had Alzheimer’s – and the comic outcome of a trip to a Neil Diamond concert.

In our present time of anxiety and global virus death tallies, this graceful memoir seems particularly pertinent. “Every loss is a lessening. Every loss makes one more aware of how much there is to lose,” writes Royle.

Mother: A Memoir by Nicholas Royle is published by Myriad Editions on 14 May, £8.99

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Never Imitate

26 August 2020

Mother: A Memoir, by Nicholas Royle, is what it says on the cover – the author’s memories of his mother. These are not presented in a linear manner. Rather, they are reminiscences – echoes – that, realistically, cannot include every thought and feeling from each incident recalled. The portrayal of the mother alters a little with each retelling. What emerges is an impression of a spirited woman who was many things – as people are. In looking at her through the eyes of her son, several decades after her death, the reader becomes aware of how much he venerated her. Whilst acknowledging what others may regard as flaws, he saw her influence over the family and many of those who knew her.

Kathleen McAdam came from Scottish lineage and remained close to her wider family throughout her life. She was a nurse, continuing to work after the birth of her two sons. Kathleen married Maxwell Royle. Maxwell was the son of artists yet attended a public school. They had contacts amongst the famous of the time. Their boys were raised to free range but in relative privilege.

As a mother, Kathleen supported her children’s chosen pursuits, fiercely guarding their interests from any complaints made about their activities. Her conversation drew in many of the friends they brought to the house. At no time in this memoir does her son raise any suggestion of resentment over what she expected of him in terms of time and attention.

Another picture that emerges of Kathleen is that of her sitting at the kitchen table – chain smoking, doing crosswords or reading. There is mention of her love life and how she flirted with admirers – Maxwell may also have had a dalliance. Their son offers no hint of what he thought of this at the time or later.

The memoir opens with the impact on the family of Kathleen’s descent into dementia – an illness that led to her slow demise. The author ponders if this could have been precipitated by the death of his brother. This latter tragedy changed all of their lives. The dynamic woman became a shell of herself, existing but without her trademark spark or energy.

Chapters offer not just memories of Kathleen but of the family – at home and on travels. Details are provided of their ancestry including photographs of previous generations. Nicholas and his brother, Simon, were close to cousins and regularly visited their relatives. The impression offered is one of time capsuled properties with space to roam and menageries of animals. Although appreciative, the descriptions make no attempt to make this upbringing appear idyllic.

Mention is made of misbehaviour – of expulsions from school and experiments verging on the cruel. Punishments at home, if they happened, are not disclosed.

The complexity of family life comes through in the short chapters and recollections of changing scenes across many decades. Although there is obvious emotion, particularly in dealing with illness and death, much of the writing is framed as factual.

And this is the book’s strength. The reader is left to form their own impressions. It matters not what they think of Kathleen. This is her story told from her surviving son’s perspective. It would appear that, until the end, to him she was everything he needed her to be.

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Claire Looby, Irish Times

20 July 2020

Stories of loss can hit even harder at times, like now, when loss appears to be all around us. In this memoir of a feisty nurse and autodidact, Royle looks back at two losses of his mother - the first to dementia, and then her eventual passing. His recollections echo how we remember our past; as snippets of time within bigger occasions, stories we half recall, not in chronological order. Tenderly, often humorously, Royle captures the essence of moments when Kate - or Kathleen as her husband always called her - was engrossed in fiendish crossword puzzles, swearing at fox hunters or mourning her youngest son. The searching, melodic prose reaches out to philosophy to make sense of the feelings and true, true love lingers throughout.

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Brian Maye, Irish Times

8 July 2020

This is not a conventional chronological memoir – instead offering snapshots as it tries to capture fleeting impressions of events, people, sights, sounds, smells etc. It is poetic, philosophical, a moving celebration of mother-child relations. The author’s mother, an egalitarian, mainly self-taught and a voracious reader, instilled in him a love of literature and animals that formed his character and career. She was a nurse and this causes him to muse on her great “patience” and care for her “patients” (wordplay is prevalent): “She nursed whatever she looked on”. The loss of her younger son to cancer at 27 triggered Alzheimer’s in her and this double tragedy occupies much of the book. The tone is often elegiac but there are many other moods as well as the mother’s multifaceted nature is recalled

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Halfman, Halfbook, 4/5 star review

4 June 2020

4 out of 5 stars

A copy of this was provided free of charge from the publisher in return for an honest review.

Families have a way of generating their own traditions and occasionally legends and Nicholas Royle’s family is no exception. His parents were introduced by a man called Peter Townend. He had been social editor of the Tatler and was far more used to moving in much elevated circles in British society. Royle’s father worked for him at Burkes Peerage and he was responsible for introducing Maxwell Royle and Kathleen McAdam. He still has no idea to this day how Townend knew his mother.

Kathleen was Scottish and Maxwell was English and they had fairly comfortable upbringings and their relationship blossomed and they were soon married and before long had two sons, Nicholas and Simon. Kathleen worked as a nurse before the boys were born and carried on after they had arrived. They were a comfortable post-war middle-class family and the boys were allowed a certain amount of freedom that other children weren’t necessarily afforded.

This book by Royle is his kaleidoscope of memories of her and family life in short essays. We read of her sitting in the kitchen doing a Times or Telegraph crossword, the tidy house that was so very different to his cousins home. The brothers would spend hours wandering the countryside, birdwatching and searching for dead animals joy of the family Sunday roast. She would read voraciously, a habit and pleasure that she passed onto Royle, but she could be utterly scathing about the books that she didn’t like, dismissing one classic as drivel!

But in amongst all the happy times were moments of tragedy, he lost his brother to cancer when he was in his twenties, and you can sense that every time he talks about him, that it is still raw even now. The book opens too with Kathleen saying that she ‘is losing her marbles’ and he effectively lost her twice, once to dementia and finally when she passed.

I really enjoyed this as it is a touching book about a normal family growing up in a time that seems to be in a different world to today’s relentless pace of life. I liked that these fragments of his memories did not fit a regular timeline, it felt like someone sifting through a box of photos and the snap found would trigger the memories of a favourite holiday, reminders about other members of the wider family or the time when his brother kept raptors and his father working at Burkes Peerage. A detail mentioned in an earlier essay is expanded on in another before being concluded in yet another. He does not try to make you like her, rather he presents her to us just as she was and tells us he loved her then and still does now.

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3 June 2020

Nine cups of milky Nescafé Gold Blend a day; a low-tar cigarette smouldering; a hot-water-bottle always on her lap; the Times crossword almost completed at the Formica table; knitting on the go; and novels — she always read the last page first. She was one of that generation of women who didn’t go to university but were incredibly well-read and knew poems by heart.

This was Kathleen, the mother of Nicholas Royle, novelist and professor of English at Sussex University. In a remarkable and moving memoir he has captured and preserved a loving, kind, impatient woman — and perhaps, with her, all of our mothers in the sweet predictability of their sayings and habits.

These were her catchphrases: ‘ouijamiflip’ for ‘thingummyjig’; ‘the state of the place!’; ‘spend a penny’; ‘spick and span’; ‘all’s fair in love and war’; ‘too late she cries!’ And her core advice (she was a nurse in her working life): ‘Never lose the common touch.’

If only it had been all like that. But unbearable tragedy struck. A lump appeared on Royle’s younger brother Simon’s arm when he was 20. Seven years later, in 1986, he was dead from cancer. The two saddest sentences Royle ever heard his mother speak were ‘It’s the same thing’ — which was what she said to him on the telephone to explain that Simon’s cancer had returned with a vengeance after remission — and, later, ‘I’m losing my marbles’.

The death of her son triggered dementia, reminding us that we’re all closer than we dare imagine to this state: bereavement can lurch us into it. That his lucid mother, who had always been ‘a bloodhound for lunacy in others’, should fall victim to this appalling condition Royle still finds hard to take in. How to express the horror of it? And how to pay homage to his mother who suffered from it? He does so by allowing his own language to fall empathetically into a kind of dementia-ese. His sentences fracture, the commas go, words that sound like each other are put together:

Grief at her son gone in his mid-twenties drove her into any and every bush and ambush in mental and physical flames drowning buried for miles in every direction.

It can be beautiful, like poetry, but sometimes it goes too far, and you have no idea what he’s talking about. For example:

Two ‘I’s parked in dateless dark. It’s a lot. Each a slot. I see you. You see no son. The day is done. I am in translation. Into the nothing you see. We park apart. Under the hill. All the dancers. It’s too much of a lot and no lot at all. Richard III carried a car park on his back. Five hundred and forty years later his lot acquires scheduled monument status. What is my mother’s lot? How is it to be borne? All lots are lost. The odds is gone.

That bewildering outpouring is brought on by recalling the worst moment of his life, which was when he visited his mother a few days before she died and she didn’t recognise him. You can see why both he and his sentences might go to pieces as he tries to evoke that dreadful moment.

If you respond well to this kind of disjointed prose you’ll love the whole book. But I much preferred the beautiful, simply described traits of the vivacious pre-dementia Kathleen — the one who, having just finished Iris Murdoch’s The Sea, The Sea, ruthlessly pronounced it ‘drivel!’

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Short Books and Scribes

3 June 2020

Mother: A Memoir is a book that immediately intrigued me. I love to read stories of ‘ordinary’ people, who often have lived the most interesting of lives.

Nicholas Royle writes of his mother primarily. It is around her that most of his narrative revolves. But he also writes of family life, both immediate (his parents, himself and his younger brother) and a little wider (aunts, cousins, grandparents and so on). It is the devastating ‘loss of her marbles’ that starts Nicholas’s remembrances of his mother, and from there we hear about her younger life, working life, married life, and family life.

Royle himself says that the memoir ‘makes no pretence at being comprehensive, chronological or orderly’ and it definitely is a series of random snapshots and memories of his mother at various times. This works fine for me as I rather enjoy reading in a non-linear fashion but it won’t suit readers who like to read in chronological order. Royle’s writing style is very poetic in style, maybe a little too much for my personal tastes. He’s a Professor of English so way above my intellectual level, but I cannot deny that his writing is graceful and sensitive.

What shines through is his immense love for his mother, the way she cared for him, indulged him and his brother in whatever they wanted to do. Alzheimer’s robbed not only Kathleen of her marbles but also Royle of the mother he knew and the reader cannot help but empathise. I very much enjoyed the photographs interspersed throughout the book which, although the narrative would have managed fine without them, did complement the author’s account perfectly.

Mother: A Memoir is a moving and thoughtful read of the love of a son for his mother and his lifelong respect for her.

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Philipa Coughlan, NB magazine

18 May 2020

There are some wonderful personal photographs in this beautiful family story but the one that sticks in my mind is at the end. It shows a somewhat bleak kitchen but in the corner by the window sits Nicholas Royle’s mother on a chair leaning on the formica table. In some ways this place was the centre of her world and Kathleen Royle was the centre of her son’s life. Tragically her other son, Simon, died in 1986 of cancer. As a nurse she continued her caring role, with hands on all she came across to soothe, caress and in her last years search. Because Kathleen realises ‘she is losing her marbles’ and this growing knowledge haunts this memoir.

Royle is a wonderful author. Poetic, personal, photographically intimate. The whole book is haunting, but it is not tragic.

Royle shares the joy of family life. Mrs Royle, a well known local nurse (who even attended David Attenborough’s family) she was a marvellously no -nonsense woman, she reads widely (those times of poetry and novels seeping through to Nicholas in his future career). But she is also outspoken – cursing the local fox hunters when they live in Devon and even, it is hinted at, sharing some flirting (if not more) with quite a few men.

My mother died when I was 15 and there is not a day that has gone by since that I have not missed her. I do sometimes begrudge those who have their mothers for many more years and then feel such tragic grief. Surely my early bereavement is more emotive? Of course it isn’t . Each family has its tragedies and different generations have had much to face.

Royle talks of his mother and sister Marion with such care when during the war they were separated from their own parents. Did post war parenting prove more difficult or did the memory of life and death in a world wide sense remove the emotional insularity of family loss? The utter shock of her son’s death seems to trigger in Kathleen a differing approach. Does that also trigger her dementia? As children are we all guilty of viewing our own parents differently as we ourselves grow up, move, become parents, and perhaps spend less time directly with those who have brought us up.

Royle is a Professor of English at the University of Sussex (where I came across his skilful teaching when I studied for my MA) so I knew this was going to be an expertly written book. However being a good writer doesn’t always translate to providing your own memoir beyond a sentimental scene telling day by day depiction.

This book will pull you in as a reader. There is much to share. What a shame Mrs Royle was not around to once again sit at her chair by the formica table and read it herself. She would surely have been very proud.

Superb personal read. Book clubs will have much to explore of family relationships and what they might leave behind to their own sons and daughters.

Philipa Coughlan 5/4*

MOTHER A Memoir by Nicholas Royle
978-1-912408-57-3 New Internationalist Publications Myriad Editions Paperback February 2020

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Years of Reading Selfishly, Bookstagrammer

18 May 2020

I first saw Nicholas’ memoir about his mother in a @myriad_editions Newsletter, and hand on heart was immediately drawn to it by the cover, which was really reminiscent of many photographs of my own childhood - the forced smiles and the slightly tense poses of all those captured at that point in time.
However, what a snapshot like this cannot tell us is truly anything about the family - the little in jokes, the words only that family uses for different things, and what every person is really like when the camera’s gaze is no longer on them.
If you are expecting a straightforward linear narrative in Mother, then this may not be the book for you. If however, like me, you are endlessly fascinated by the apparently unremarkable and unseen fabric of family life, Mother is a very special book.
Nicholas uses short chapters, punctuated with photographs, poetry, philosophical and literary theory to draw us in to the life of his family and most especially his Mother. As she slips away from him as dementia takes hold, still traumatised by the death of Nicholas’ brother Simon in his twenties, Nicholas tries to make sense of this amazing woman whose life is celebrated and remembered in his memoir.
At times it may initially seem that the memories are random and unrelated, but Nicholas cleverly draws us in to the life of his family by making us think about the words we use, the way we form memories and how we each have very different recollections of the same person.
It is as much about what is not said, how just because we cannot articulate our grief that it doesn’t mean we don’t feel it just as deeply, and that understanding people cope with love and loss in different ways can ultimately unite us.
Mother A Memoir is a thoughtful and quietly passionate book. It will not only leave you understanding the deep emotional connections that the most seemingly inconsequential moments can mean to others, but also give you a renewed passion to ensure you tell those closest to you how much you love them. Especially in these testing and emotional times.

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The Worm Hole

18 May 2020

Owing to the title of this book and in addition its contents (necessarily discussed below) I’m leaving my usual synopsis paragraph to this one sentence.

Royle’s third narrative book, his first narrative non-fiction (I say ‘narrative’ because the author has also written many academic works), does both what it says on the tin and what it implies on the tin if you were to look at the tin more closely. Mother: A Memoir is a mixture of straightforward memoir about the author’s mother but also a book about the concept of a mother – particularly, of course, his mother – and the concept both of writing a memoir and of memoir as a written form. It’s about writing. What this means in brief, is that this is a highly experimental, artistic, and language and linguistics related book that is nevertheless also a standard memoir.

But ‘standard’, in any quantity, doesn’t really explain this book. The only book that this one comes anywhere close to being similar to, at least to my admittedly limited knowledge, is the Royle’s previous book, An English Guide To Birdwatching. The book succeeds in being something very special: from the title, it’s a memoir of the author’s mother, Mrs Royle. (I’ll be referring to Nicholas Royle as ‘the author’ from now on to limit any confusion.) However as you read through it you might be forgiven for thinking that it’s only half about Mrs Royle, until you’ve read enough to discover that in actual fact it may be more of a memoir and more of a tribute to her than you could have imagined.

The book is also about a love of reading and literature in general; some of the best passages discuss times when the author and Mrs Royle conversed about texts, and there’s a lot of enjoyment to be found in the many references to novels and poems that are included without further comment. It can take a few pages to get into it, with its various versions of wordplay, but it’s very easy once you’ve got the hang of it. It’s very appealing and often quite fun.

The writing style is great; there are stylistic choices deliberately chosen and accounted for. The most obvious is in punctuation; the book is devoid of commas, there are none except in quotations, because, as the author says on page 25 (bracketed text mine):

But in writing about my mother I have been compelled to respond to what was quirky and singular about her own language. I have experienced a kind of unfettering. And stumbling into a new closeness to her in the very reaching out to shape words and syntax – idioms and ironies – in the wake of her voice and her laughter. In the remembered tricks and turns of her vivacity. I discovered I had to write – for better or worse – without commas. Things linked without notifications or signposts. Continuous but broken. Making more use of dashes. In sentences sometimes lacking main verbs. Or subjects. Discandying flux. Even if at the same time I cannot write a sentence without wanting to pay homage to my father’s lifelong Maxwellian [both Royle’s and his brother’s word for their father’s passion for the English language, based on his name] vigilance as Grammaticality Enforcement Agency.

(The extract shows the other effect of the lack of commas – the book is quite often very poetic. It also quite often changes the ‘natural’ emphasis in a sentence to highlight what is truly important in it.)

Perhaps – likely? – the author’s father wouldn’t have appreciated the way the book was written, which in the context of the family and the addition of Mr Royle’s letters to newspapers, is an interesting idea in itself. But there’s also an interesting question that this reviewer found herself asking – does the author’s focus on his mother’s language, given the father’s was the language deemed more correct (and thus important), question the traditional ideas of the relative values of men and women’s work and so on? (I should point out the author never says this, it’s just something I took away with me.) It certainly questions whether Mr Royle’s use of language is necessarily better (employed in Mrs Royle’s correspondence, his corrections in the letters she wrote are shown in the author’s discussion and reproduction of one of them).

This is perhaps the time to also note that Mrs Royle was a dedicated, passionate nurse who was well loved by many. Stories of her work are many, are lovely, and are spread throughout the book. (The narrative is not linear – the content is divided into chapters each on a theme – and scenes and elements of Mrs Royle’s life are returned to.) Quite a number of the photographs show Mrs Royle at various stages of her career.

It’s also perhaps the time to note that as much as the book is about Mrs Royle, it’s also about her husband, the author’s brother, who sadly passed away at a young age, and many other members of the family. There’s a lot to be said for the cover photograph showing the nuclear family. This book covers the affects of a mother on lives – the affect of Mrs Royle on the author, his father, his brother, and inevitably somewhat the whole family on who the author is.

To be sure, despite the small number of pages – just over 200 – Mother: A Memoir is a book you will probably want to take a bit of time with; it’s a good one to savour. That’s related to the major point to make – this book is brilliant.

I received this book for review.

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Hephzibah Anderson, The Observer

11 May 2020

Pondering what moved him to make a subject of his mother, years after her death, novelist Nicholas Royle gestures to his own ageing, his writing about the natural world and "the strange timetables of realisation and loss". That candour characterises a book that probes the meaning of the parent-child bond as it chronicles the dementia-driven decline of Mrs Royle, ex-nurse, avid reader and cruciverbalist. It's a strikingly beautiful collage of the many moments that made a mother and son's "hearts knock together".

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Sheena Joughin, TLS

9 May 2020

What is this mother? Who says it? To whom?” – “When does a mother die?” – “My mother is in everything. And she is not here … What am I to do with it?” The Sussex academic Nicholas Royle’s deeply reflective memoir is full of questions for which he has no answers, and gives scant facts of his lost mother’s life: she was born Kathleen Beatrice McAdam and had Scottish aunts, whom the family visited throughout Royle’s childhood. She married a man who was grieving his own mother; a man of few words, unlike herself. She worked as a nurse, in Fulham, in Cheam and then the West Country, where her two sons lived an idyllic young life. Nicholas was the elder boy. His brother Simon was a painter, who died of cancer in his twenties; something his mother never recovered from: “How could a mother let her son – who was gone – go?”

Royle sees the writing of a memoir as akin to doing a crossword puzzle and the word that dominates here is Alzheimer’s. “I’m losing my marbles”, his mother declared one morning, as he was grinding coffee. And now she became “like the great white polar bear we’d once seen at Edinburgh zoo … agitation without respite”, lost for the words she had been so easy with, and lost – most catastrophically – to her remaining son. In her care home, she looked at him blankly: “Not to be recognised by your mother … words like ‘spark’ or ‘glimmer’ all out”, he exclaims: “Conversation conservation life support paradise lost”.

All children begin by loving their mothers, but for Royle the bond that began in infancy continued throughout adolescence and beyond. While his mother sat at her white Formica kitchen table, cradling instant coffee and a hot water bottle, he read to her. They shared Wallace Stevens, D. H. Lawrence, Samuel Beckett, Robert Burns, Doris Lessing, Roland Barthes, Freud and Tennyson, as he drank whisky and she listened. He read her his own compositions. “I think of my mother as the creator of a new kind of nursery”, he tells us. “In my mind’s eye she is air. In the air. Of the air. Every poem goes back to her.” Yet Royle somehow fails to bring her alive, being more concerned to address the struggle he has in attempting to do so than to record her actual presence. “Each sentence is deadly in so far as it threatens to fix or arrest the otherness of my mother flowing through – over and under – the world of my thoughts and feelings at every instant.” As the book closes, he looks at his hands in early morning sunlight. They remind him of his mother’s hands, which in turn puts him in mind of marine iguanas. His pain is boundless, elusive and unassuaged, despite his in-depth lucubration: “It has to do with something too deep for tears”.

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Liz Robinson, LoveReading

5 May 2020

A rather lovely, incredibly thoughtful and moving memoir that drifts into an observation of memory, love and bereavement. Nicholas Royle writes about the feelings surrounding his mum, a nurse, nature lover and voracious reader who died in 2003. He says “it seems less a record of events than a grappling with what escapes words. Not just love and loss but fire and air and water and earth. Smell and music. Voice and touch”. I felt an affinity with those words, and entered the book with my heart and mind open. This feels like a wander down memory lane, stopping for a letter here, a song there, allowing thoughts to have their say before moving on. Nicholas Royle ponders the use of photos in a memoir, I’m so glad that he included them as I feel it brings an even greater connection. There’s no set menu on offer, “I’m losing my marbles” appears and reappears, those words so knowing, so full of knowledge and awareness, yet also full of loss. Mother: A Memoir takes an intimate and meaningful look at one woman, yet throws open thoughts to so, so much more.

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Thomas Dutoit, Professor of English at the University of Lille

25 April 2020

From the condensed formula of its title onward, Mother: A Memoir releases, like the earth giving life, beautiful—by incessant turns, gay, thrilling, joyful, wrenching, gutting, searing— memories that can be, that are, also and all so blanching: a rustling wrestling unarresting rush of memories, their escaping disappearance—"all lots are lost," of what her whorled world, of what her hoards and hordes, of what her water words, "a dreaming range of liquid volcanoes," bring back, the "how much I missed."  

My profession is, basically, to read and to teach reading. I therefore read, relatively I suppose, a lot. I enjoy reading, profoundly. Mother: A Memoir I loved so much that I didn't want it to end, even postponing reading the last ten pages, unable to accept that it would end.  I came to care for and cherish the people it's about, and this carried me back and through my own growing up, as a child, as adolescent, as adult, with my own mother, father, siblings, family of relatives, my life coming back in waves on each page. I have read lots of Nicholas Royle's books. He is a dazzling and breathtaking artist. Language, words, the world they are too, that they animate, or are animated by: "My mother is in everything… as permissive poet and voice of free association she is everywhere. My Singer. No dreaming without her." 

There is a giddy elation, and a shimmering serenity, that comes in reading, in witnessing too, what his writing reveals. I didn't know why Mother: A Memoir was different, or how it was, from his other books, or just other books, but I certainly felt something very distinctive here, even if the virtuosity, the fabulous dexterity of the writing and release of the resources of words here was something I marvelled at in An English Guide to Birdwatching, in Quilt, and in the other books, too many to list. When telling a friend, "I have the new book by Nick, it's so good I don't want to finish it," the friend reassured me, "you can read it a second time." And so I have. Believe it or not: Royle’s book is written without commas. I hadn’t noticed the first time round. There was this sheer unconscious "simplicity" and I hadn’t even taken it in. Or else I’d taken it in completely. He explicitly does state at one point, “no commas”—but I hadn’t seen it. 

Word Child, Bookstagrammer

18 April 2020

Here is a stack of @myriad_editions books to celebrate their 100 books this March. Myriad Editions is a cool independent publisher based in Brighton. Have you heard of them?

I’m about to finish Mother: A Memoir by Nicholas Royle. Mother is a warm and emotional memoir written by a son. I feel I should write a similarly loving memoir about my daughter. This book is mostly about the pain of losing the mother and about the mother’s pain of losing one of her sons.

Reading this book I have actually read a book by a male writer😂, which I hardly ever do.

This reminds me I saw Misbehaviour in the cinema yesterday.

This is such an important movie. Every minute of it is a painful reminder how oppressed women still are in the U.K. There hasn’t been much progress since the 70s even though many would insist the opposite.

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Deidre Falvey, The Irish Times

30 January 2020

Novelist and academic Nicholas Royle captures the spirit of post-war parenting in Mother: A Memoir as well as that of his mother whose dementia and death were triggered by the tragedy of losing her other son to cancer in his 20s. Before the devastating “loss of her marbles”, Mrs Royle, a nurse by profession, is a marvellously no-nonsense character, an autodidact who reads widely and voraciously, swears at her fox-hunting neighbours, and instils in the young Nick a love of literature and wildlife that will form his character and his career. At once poetic and philosophical, his memoir is also a powerful reflection on climate crisis and “mother nature”, on literature and life writing, and on the links between the maternal and memory itself.

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