Saturday 1 February 2003

The Taxi Driver’s Daughter - (Man Booker Prize 2003)

Julia Darling

Caris ‘had never really thought about what she didn’t have, about the world outside her street and school’ until her mother was arrested.

The Taxi Driver’s Daughter is about a family who become strangers and resent each other. Each finds their respective retreat. Caris’ sister, Stella, with her books and ironed knickers. Caris wagging school with George and their tree of shoes like one of the installations in the New-Newcastle (‘from coal to art’) with which her father is so taken. Yet even as his wife awaits sentence, Mac admires how ‘the optimistic River Tyne glittered, and the new bridge arched itself in a yawn of delight’.

Darling’s novel is a moving portrayal of a family struggling to co-exist. Their dreams of a better life bump up against one another. Mother and daughter blame Mac. Caris despises everything and everyone. She’s fed up of hearing how the family needs to pull together, ‘to cope’. Her father doesn’t know what to say to her; and her teacher is at a loss, even struggling to convince himself that school will help. Nana Price sleeps in the windowless box room, with all the other abandoned memories and remnants of their dreams.

Darling sympathetically portrays the minutiae of her characters’ experience. If anything, the family as haven grates a little in its eventual surrender to the apparently inevitable. But this is a relatively minor gripe, in that it is also testament to the author’s belief that people are able to deal with the seemingly insurmountable by drawing on each other. Ultimately Darling evokes the aching sadness of mundane lives drifting apart as they tear at each other in their efforts to transcend the ordinary.



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