A book I would have tracked down even if this weren’t my job ... Lively and bittersweet ... This is really two books that are stacked, like mozzarella and tomato, in one pile. The first is a sharp memoir about illness and recovery ... The sections about his parents are most alive as a love story.
The chapters on his parents are so distant from that in time, culture and feeling that the whole seems disjointed and pointless ... At first, that is; until, bit by bit, something remarkable and beautiful and ever so subtle grows, and Father and Son becomes Raban’s finest and most moving book ...A life ending, a life beginning. Father and son. I wept.
Offers a final reckoning (Raban died in January this year), less egotistical, more rueful, informed by a catastrophic sense of the damage that can come one’s way. Raban is far too good a writer to make the parallel blunt, but the stroke is his war, and from the perspective of a wheelchair-bound hemiplegic he sees his father differently ... A fine achievement, a wide-ranging and compelling account with the author’s hallmarks of intelligence, erudition, humour and honesty.
A quixotic and nomadic seafaring writer, Raban was fascinated by the lives of the people he met ... A word stylist, Raban writes with delicacy but over-uses the phrase 'it must have seemed', while his prose is sometimes florid. He is frequently melancholic and meditative, but his distinctive writing is characterised by precision and clarity.
The book’s first line makes an impressive jolt ... He can still write, beautifully, alternating his autopathography with an account of his parents’ early marriage and its disruption by the war ... The halves of the book don’t fit together, don’t really comment on each other. It’s two stories from the beginning and the end of a writer’s life, with the vital middle – the link – missing ... I fear Father and Son isn’t quite the book his fans will be hoping for, the book that would crown his achievement as a writer.
Everything that’s matchless about Raban’s work — his hyperacute eye for detail, his powers of synthesis, his mordant sense of humor, his vast reservoirs of knowledge and his love of travel — is there ... Raban fills in the blanks with histories, biographies and vivid memoirs by other soldiers who trod in the same footsteps as his father and remembered every detail of the weariness, filth and terror. These sections are gems of historical synthesis and insight into what made his father tick, from his matchless devotion to his wife to his entrenched class snobbery, racism and anti-Semitism ... has the feel of a valediction; its force is doubled by the knowledge that Raban spent what remained of his life trying to complete it. As he chronicles his own pain, anger and determination to play the hand his failing body has dealt him, the word bravery comes to mind over and over, and perhaps that above all is his true inheritance. Like father, like son.
It’s a highly personal account of two very different experiences of trauma, loss of agency and adjustment. Throughout, Raban is brutally honest ... It’s a sign of Raban’s talent and powerful voice that, even in death, he leaves readers wanting more.
...the chapters concerning Peter Raban (in his mid-20s) and the letters he exchanged with his new wife, Monica...are written with the mastery one expects of... [Raban]: his impeccable historical scholarship, his erudition of all things nautical and geographical, and, most importantly, his command of the language. The sections concerning his stroke and time in the hospital...are unusually conversational. Indeed, while reading these chapters, I could see his ghost talking to me from across the dinner table on the third floor of his Queen Anne home.