A friend of mine gave me The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls a couple of weeks ago as a present. Rob has excellent taste in books and is usually one of the few people I can count on to introduce me to books I’ve never heard of, and to give me books I haven’t read.
The Glass Castle is Jeannette Walls’ memoir of growing up with her brother and two sisters in the 70s in America under the care of her parents, Rex, an electrician, and Rose Mary, a painter. Jeannette’s parents were chaotic, at times irresponsible, and very unconventional. Rex was an alcoholic, an extremely intelligent man who believed in educating his children, and teaching them that society’s rules were not for them. Rose was a selfish childlike woman, ill suited to the task of being a mother. She believed in giving her children absolute freedom, which was convenient for a woman who had no interest in parenting, and thought that mistakes and accidents were how one learned to grow up.
Rex pursued harebrained money making schemes, which were usually derailed by his binge drainking, and Rose Mary often refused to work even when the family were destitute. Jeannette and her siblings constantly faced poverty, neglect and hunger, and at one point the children were sleeping under a tarp in their bedroom due to the roof leaking and scavenging through trash cans for leftover food so they wouldn’t starve. Uprooted countless times, they attended school sporadically and found it hard to make friends.
Although it would be easy to be embittered, easy to hate one’s parents after such a traumatic childhood, Jeannette tells the stories of her childhood with humour, understanding and empathy for her parents and this is what gives the book its heart.
The Glass Castle spent 100 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller List and has been translated into many different languages. I really enjoyed the book; it’s an easy read and the characters make it compelling. Have a look at this video of Jeannette recounting the events of the first chapter in the book and talking about “The Glass Castle” with her mother.