cover image Strangers: A Family Romance

Strangers: A Family Romance

Emma Tennant. New Directions Publishing Corporation, $14.95 (183pp) ISBN 978-0-8112-1530-5

This memoir, spanning three generations of Tennant's wealthy family, describes the intrigues, jealousies, competitions and frustrations of the author's ancestry, using portrait photos at the beginning of each chapter as narrative springboards. The Tennant family had two estates: Wilford, a rambling place on the Avon River; and Glen, a Scottish""mock-castle"" where Tennant spent much of her youth. Pamela, the author's strong-willed and occasionally severe great-grandmother, presided over the family. (Even after her death, she survived at Wilford in many imposing oil portraits.) Tennant's great-aunt was married to British Prime Minister H.H. Asquith, and was accustomed to having dinner with Winston Churchill and acclaimed war poet Wilfred Owen. Her half-brother was engaged briefly to Princess Margaret, but then backed out. By the time Tennant herself rose to maturity, the nobles she writes about were largely deceased. Throughout, Tennant believably evokes her ancestors' passions and disappointments, and with good humor. And yet what comes through more strongly is an emotional tautness, as if the history of the family were a wrapping just barely containing the anger and infighting at its heart.