Readersforum's Blog

November 7, 2012

A Page in the Life: Susie Boyt

Novelist Susie Boyt, Lucian Freud’s daughter, speaks to Mark Hudson about her families in fact and fiction.

“A lot of my love of poetry comes from my father,” says Susie Boyt. “From him getting me fired up about the writers he admired – Hardy, Keats and the American poet John Berryman – from when I was really quite small.”

Boyt’s new novel, The Small Hours, is about how, despite our best efforts, our family backgrounds can inhibit and even destroy us. When its exuberant anti-heroine Harriet opens a utopian nursery school in a bijou area of north London, circumstances and the actions of her nightmarish mother and brother bring on disaster, social humiliation and mental disintegration in a way that feels almost preordained.

If this intense fable feels as though it might be informed by bitter personal experience, Boyt bears little resemblance to her larger-than-life creation, Harriet. Where the latter is an endearingly clumsy 6ft 1 redhead so vividly intense to herself she expects people to open windows on car journeys, just to “let some of her out”, Boyt, the author of four previous novels and an entertaining memoir, My Judy Garland Life, is quietly spoken and reticent.

She was brought up in Islington, the youngest of five children whose mother dealt in antique clothes. “It was the Eighties, but my childhood had rather a Victorian feel,” she says. “I’d come home from school thinking I could smell something delicious, and it would be a pair of old bloomers boiling on the stove.”

The fact that her father was the painter Lucian Freud removed her childhood even further from the norm. “I realised from an early age what he was about,” she says.

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