The Silent-footed Butler


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Review by: Maggie Baron

My dear Cathy,
Through reading The Silent-footed Butler, I realise that what you have brought about is exactly what you wished to achieve from the outset – an honouring of Chris’s being; the intensity of its brew so strong that none who knew him could remain indifferent. Having not known him personally, save through your prior telling of childhood anecdotes, after reading your extraordinarily woven cloth of the lives in and around your family, this relationship changed: I feel the altered position of having been there. His compressed life beams out from the pages, not allowing any reader exemption from the proximity of his creative intelligence in all its aspects. It also begs the question: will we ever comprehend the randomness of living and dying? The world lost something of universal value on August 5th 1975.
There was another pulse as strong as ever running through the text and that belonged to your integrity, strength and honesty, which anyone who has known you will have had the benefit of. But what permeated my being was the fortitude, generosity and great spirit which existed between you and Izzy and Chris; also a sadness that the father you had, robbed your mother of her pleasure at having you: she was driven so hard by his weakness. He did have another chance, but she was never left without responsibility. I’m glad she had Archie in her young circle, although not without a price.
Being human, I found an anger and an ire rise in me around certain injustices. It is clear that you were just misunderstood because the maturity of your sense of fairness simply did not match your chronological age. The number of times you suffered humiliation through unreflected negativity of an adult or peer is quite clear. I was horrified by the Persephone moment on the train – what kind of father would watch his child like a guinea pig in a cage while another unsavoury character insinuated himself upon her? I don’t understand this.
You know from an earlier reading that I was completely taken with the experiences of Maggie and Hannah Glass, the tragedy and loyalty again intertwined, an early leitmotif in your family line. The secondary story of women in the earlier history and their hardships cut a fine figure of your grandmother who used all the ills to give her resolve to support her daughter: admirable, even if you kids had to wear the infernal cardigans. Which brings me to Rory, the fairy-god-clarinettist – how did it benefit anything to have him suffer in such a way? This and Chris’s loss flipped me into certain juxtapositions of ‘it is not damn fair that rats run free’!
What of grief? Your grandmother said the following: If your babies died, you had to get on with life. There were other mouths to be fed. You weren’t the only one who had lost a husband or a wife or a child. This led to the view that ‘grief was an indulgence, an expensive emotion which wouldn’t pay the rent.’ I’m afraid my heart twisted and turned with all the spaces in the text just crammed with grief – the grief of generations. I find your respect for their humanity addresses this void.
My very personal response comes from a struck place of absolute awe at your endless will to accept what is and has been. To feel the woman in the child and all her struggles to communicate her very existence in a circumstance which could recognise her skill and talent, but not her core being – this made my heart ache. I know we can say this of any child, but then not every child would be so articulate about her situation and therefore allow herself to be subject to scrutiny in the way you do. The utter individuality of the three of you becomes so transparent through your texts, each unique and fine, and at the same time remaining children in your fun and humour, your skills and hobbies.
I know I read these pages from a very privileged position: I have forgotten nothing of the journey, yet it still took some hours to stop the tears which fell in sheer solidarity with all that you have lived, shared and expressed. Your children and future grandchildren will not feel unable to have known you.

Maggie Baron: Sandplay therapist

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The Silent-footed Butler by Cathy Giles