Will This House Last Forever? by Xanthi Barker review – a daughter’s attempt to understand her absent father

In this moving memoir shot through with love and pain, the author considers why Sebastian Barker chose poetry over parenthood

The father of this book’s subtitle (On Losing a Father) is – was – the poet Sebastian Barker. The tense in which he exists is unstable in Xanthi Barker’s complicatedly nuanced, absorbing and moving memoir. After suffering from lung cancer he died, at 68, of cardiac arrest on 31 January 2014, but for a while, after his death, she felt him to be alive. He was the son of the poet George Barker and the novelist Elizabeth Smart (By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept) and a fine lyrical poet himself. The love his daughter has for him – admiring, tender and sometimes unmanageably intense – is never in question but keeps company with other feelings: disappointment, resentment and pain.

All of which is understandable, given that Xanthi is the daughter of a man who “left when I was a baby” and was “easily bored and did not like to talk about what he called personal matters”. But the subtitle could as well be “on finding a father”. For the fascination of this book is in the attempt to understand a parent posthumously, to consider all the conversations that never happened as well as those that did. This is about making up for lost time – time lost for ever.

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