Did You Ever Have a Family starts with a major drama: on the day her daughter is to marry, the stove in the kitchen explodes. All of June’s family members and her lover die in the explosion and the ensuing fire. June herself is in the garden and is powerless. She cannot help her beloved ones and can merely watch the house burning down. June is in shock; she rejects the support (and plee for help) from her lover’s mother and runs from the village they live in. Clegg unravels what led to the explosion by having several narrators talk about the lives of June and Lydia, and about their own lives. In this way we get to know June and Lydia but also Cissy, Kelly and Rebecca the women who run the hotel June flees to. Their own stories contribute to the novel in a natural way. Clegg has chosen for his novel to be distant, detached. Despite the drama, Did You Ever Have a Family never becomes a melodrama, it is rather a slightly retrospective contemplation. Because of the many narrators Clegg can provide facts about the lives of June and Lydia without the novel ever becoming affected. The narrators’ stories complement each other perfectly. Their points of view also prevent the novel from being just about June or about Lydia, the novel is about grief. Clegg shows both mothers coping with grief in their own way. One fleeing physically , the other fleeing into her core. That they ultimately need each other to cope with their feelings of loss and sadness is a logical next step in the novel.
Did You Ever Have a Family feels detached, the enormous loss of June and Lydia is hardly ever described directly by themselves. This distance convinces. The detachment and the lack of grand emotions enable the reader to commiserate with both mothers. Did You Ever Have a Family is a beautiful, unassuming novel about a loss too big for words.