Excerpt from The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Family Tree

by Carole Cadwalladr

The Family Tree
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2005, 416 pages
    Nov 2005, 416 pages

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And it's true, I have my grandmother's skin (sallow) and my mother's hair (mouse). But I can't blame them for what happened. I can't blame anybody. Or at least I can't blame anyone other than myself. I, Rebecca Monroe, take full responsibility for most of what happened. And the rest? I put it down to chance. Poor timing. Bad luck. It's not a fashionable theory, but then this was the seventies. It's probably best to try and leave fashion out of it.

1.2 family n 1 : a fundamental social group in society typically consisting of one or two parents and their children.

"Missionary position," said Lucy. "Name given by amused Polynesians, who preferred squatting to the European matrimonial. Libel on one of the most rewarding sex positions."

We were lying on her parents' bed, leafing through the pages of our latest discovery.

"Who's Polly Neezhuns?"

Lucy looked up, her dark hair swinging around her face, and shrugged.

"Croupade. Any position in which he takes her squarely from behind; i.e., all rear-entry positions except those where she has one leg between his or is half turned on her side. See Cuissade."

There was a pause as we both tried to configure this in our minds.

"What does it say under Cuissade?"

We both pronounced it Cue-is-aid. They didn't teach French at Middleton Primary School.

"Cue-is-aid," said Lucy, enunciating the words carefully. She was using her newsreader- announcing-the-unemployment-figures voice. "The half-rear entry position, where she turns her back to him and he enters with one of her legs between his and the other more or less drawn up: in some versions she lies half turned on her side for him, still facing away."

We stared at the picture accompanying this particular passage in the book. The illustration was smudgy and drawn by hand, but there was definitely a man with no clothes on. He seemed to be holding some sort of broom pole. It was rude, that much was sure. Possibly very rude. Poor Lucy. I felt a pang of pity for my cousin, for it was in her parents' bedroom, specifically her father's, Uncle Kenneth's, sock drawer, that we had found the book. She didn't seem to mind though. She was already flicking to the next section on "Coitus à la Florentine."

"Loooooooooooooooooooooooocy!" Aunty Suzanne had a good pair of lungs on her, and although we were two flights up and separated by several doors, we jumped up, covered our find with Argyle wool socks and sprinted downstairs, arriving breathless in the kitchen.

"Yes!" We appeared under Aunty Suzanne's elbow.

"Ooh, you startled me. Do you want some milk and cookies?"

"Yes please!"

Aunty Suzanne arranged a liberal quantity of chocolate-chip cookies on a plate and poured us a glass of milk. I couldn't help thinking that America was probably a lot like this. At our house they were called "biscuits" and kept in a tin that was strictly off-limits.

"So?" said Aunty Suzanne, who was always trying to take an interest in her daughter's development. "What have you girls been up to?"

We looked at each other.


"Oh! Nothing at all?"

Aunty Suzanne looked at us expectantly through a pair of large round glasses. She had the same long dark hair as Lucy, although she covered hers with an orange silk scarf, tasseled at the edges. Of all the different kinds of mothers who waited at the school gates, Aunty Suzanne was by far the most exotic.

"Just playing," said Lucy. "Ripping stuff!"

Aunty Suzanne narrowed her eyes.

"I hope you haven't been reading those books again, have you?"

We looked at each other guiltily. How did she know?

"You know I don't approve of all those old-fashioned boarding school tales. They're terribly reactionary."

From The Family Tree by Carole Cadwalladr, pages 1-17. All rights reserved. No part of this book maybe reproduced without written permission from the publisher.

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