A Lifetime Burning by Linda Gillard

A word of warning about A LIFETIME BURNING: that’s definitely not one for the overly-sensitive! The content is pretty challenging (but there’s hardly any swearing as I recall.) STAR GAZING is a more comfortable read and can be given to anyone.

Obviously I was intrigued when Linda Gillard left the above comment on my review of her book Emotional Geology. It’s not that I’m overly sensitive but I’m always aware that some folks are. This is going to be a sketchy discussion of the book and the subject matter but I have to say that it’s a great read and not at all ‘tacky’.

A Lifetime Burning involves that most taboo of subjects – incest. Flora and Rory Dunbar are twins who have always been exceptionally close to each other and I think nowadays their family would be described as being dysfunctional. Their father was much older than their mother and so he was an old man by the time the twins came along. Maybe that’s why a blind eye was turned to things which should really have been tackled. It was easier to pretend that things weren’t going on than to face it and upset people. In fact just about everybody in the book is avoiding reality, which damages their lives and the lives of their supposedly nearest and dearest.

The action flips backwards and forwards in time between 1942 and 2000. I sometimes find books like that to be annoying but it wasn’t a problem with this one. I don’t want to say too much about the storyline but I did really enjoy this book, in spite of the shuddersome (is that a word) goings on. The subject was dealt with very delicately but I think that most of us would feel a bit squeamish at the thought of sexual relations between relations. I hope so anyway!

It’s a book which makes you think and I particularly liked the way Linda Gillard has the same themes repeating themselves down the generations. I’ve noticed that people often repeat the same mistakes which older family members have made, even when they’ve been completely unaware of the previous history. I suppose it must be genetic.

What makes some people hyper-sensitive to one thing whilst other people have a devil-may-care attitude to the same thing? I happened to mention to one of my sons recently that it was a pity that his brother’s girlfriend didn’t have a sister for him to go out with. My son was appalled at the thought : That would be like incest – he said! Lots of people have that sort of feeling though as often people won’t go out with friends’ ex partners as it’s all just too close for them. On the other hand there are plenty of people about who make it their mission in life to nick so called friends’ partners from them. Those were the ones who always wanted the toys that someone else was playing with when they were wee I suppose.

As far as I can make out incest normally happens between siblings mainly when they haven’t been brought up together and they meet each other when they’re adults. They say that they’re attracted by the things which they recognise, family traits I suppose. Which brings me to think that it’s more like extreme narcissism – taken to the nth degree.

I know that when I visited an Edinburgh mental hospital some of the young women were in there because they had been abused by their brothers and they were wrecks because of it. It makes you thankful that you were brought up in a normal family, whatever that may be!

I think A Lifetime Burning may be out of print now but might be available as an e-book.

At the end of the book Linda Gillard explains that music plays a large part in her life, as it does in the book due to the fact that the character Rory Dunbar is a well known concert pianist. She says that these are the pieces which Rory plays during the course of the book.

I just had to go on to You Tube so that I could hear them, so I thought other people might be interested too.

Beethoven Cello sonata in A, Op 69

Beethoven Piano sonata No 21 in C, Op. 53, Waldstein

Scott Joplin Maple Leaf Rag

Ravel Piano trio in A minor

Schubert Piano Sonata D.960 in B flat

Shostakovich Piano Concert No.2 in F, Op. 102

Shostakovich Prelude & Fugue No.1 in C

6 thoughts on “A Lifetime Burning by Linda Gillard

  1. Thanks very much for this very thoughtful review, especially the music links. In an ideal world, I would have loved to have had a CD at the back of ALB, so readers could listen to the music.

    A LIFETIME BURNING is out of print now, though there are still some copies on Amazon & Abe and I have some for sale. But I’ll probably bring out the e-book next year as rights have reverted to me.

    • Linda Gillard,
      Thanks for the thought provoking and entertaining book! It was different from anything else I’ve read and certainly not predictable which can sometimes be a problem when you read so many books.
      I’d like to know how you went about writing ALB. Did you write it as it’s published or did you write the years in sequence and then split it all up?

  2. This is one of the two I have not read by Linda, though to complete the set I certainly will. Especially as I got you on to these books, Katrina.

    Thank you for the music (excuse the pun!) made a nice change .

    • Jo,
      Yes, it’s you I have to thank for getting me into reading Linda’s books and I suspect I’ll end up reading the e-book too otherwise I won’t be able to complete them. I suppose I could use my Netbook to read it but I do think it’s a real shame that her newest books haven’t been published as books. It seems to be the way things are going though. In fact it coud be said that e-books are … The Name of the Game !

  3. Sorry for the delay in answering your query, Katrina. I’ve been away.

    I wrote ALB out of order ie, as it appears in the book. I wrote the various sections as I thought of them. I wasn’t writing for a publisher when I wrote it (hadn’t yet found one!) and I had only a very vague idea about how the plot would pan out. I wrote that Prologue knowing Flora was dead, but not how or why. I had no idea that the accident would happen – that came to me much later – and the revelation about Dora’s knowledge of the twins came to me at exactly the same time it came to Hugh! If ever a book felt like it was “channelled” rather than written, this was it.

    I wrote the bits I knew/could see and I went back and filled in the “holes” where I needed to, but I knew from the start that I needed to write the book like this because I wanted to cover more than 60 years of an extended family’s life. (Elizabeth Jane Howard takes 4 long books to cover just 6 years in The Cazalet Chronicles.)

    I worked from a very long timeline on a roll of paper and I had a chart to tell me how old people were in any given year. It was hugely complicated and really strained my brain, but I must confess I’m really rather proud of the book. I’ve not come across anything else quite like it.

    • Linda Gillard,
      Thanks for getting back to me, I hope you had a nice time away, we’re going off for a few days soon too.

      I thought it must have been very difficult for you to keep track of everyone and you’re right to be proud of it. It sounds like the whole thing must have been an amazing experience for you as it almost took on a life of its own.

      I seem to remember that Kate Atkinson wrote a book which flipped backwards and forwards but not over such a long time and was much more confusing. I think it was Atkinson anyway. It’s years since I read any Elizabeth Jane Howard but I remember The Cazalet Chronicles.

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