‘How much longer will I go on believing you are still coming home?’
– Will this house last forever?
[ About the Book ]
When Xanthi Barker’s father died when she was in her mid twenties, she could make no sense of her grief for a man who had been absent for most of her life.
Her father, poet Sebastian Barker, had left Xanthi, her mother and her brother to pursue writing and a new relationship, when Xanthi was a baby. Growing up she had always struggled to reconcile his extravagant affection – a rocking horse crafted from scavenged wood, the endless stream of poems and drawings and letters, conversations that spiralled from the structure of starlight to philosophy to Bruce Springsteen – with the fact that he could not be depended upon for more everyday things. Though theirs was a relationship defined by departures, he always returned, so why should this farewell be any different, or more final?
WILL THIS HOUSE LAST FOREVER? is a heartfelt and wholly original memoir about the pain of having to come to terms with a parent’s mortality, the way grief so utterly defies logic, and about learning to see the flaws in those that we love, and let them go.
[ My Review ]
Will this house last forever? by Xanthi Barker was published June 24th with Tinder Press and is described as ‘a stunning debut – a piercingly honest and heartfelt memoir for fans of Grief is a Thing with Feathers, My Wild and Sleepless Nights or The Outrun’
For anyone who has lost a parent, time stops. Living in a world that will never be the same again, the word forever takes on a very new meaning, as the realization hits you that you will never see, hear, feel your mother or father again There is no forever. Xanthi Barker came to this dreadful realization following the death of her father, poet Sebastian Barker, when he passed away January 31st 2014.
The relationship between Xanthi and her father was a strained one but yet, over the years, they shared moments that were precious for Xanthi. She recognised the type of man he was, a self-absorbed individual with little room in his life for a wife or children, but she craved his love, his attention.
A romantic at times, he wooed her mother and convinced her to follow him to Greece where he had purchased a decrepit old building that he intended renovating. With no clue as to what she was getting involved in, her mother made the move to Greece. Initially she enjoyed the romance of this wild adventure. Living between Greece and the UK, life was exciting. But when children arrived on the scene, Sebastian Barker made a decision to move his wife and children out of the family home as he needed peace to work. He later told Xanthi that her mother broke their marriage contract by giving up her job to look after Xanthi and her older brother.
Xanthi reflects back over those years and recalls the challenges her mother encountered. Sebastian was an absent father and husband. He had little time for family life, always so very much wrapped up in himself and his work. Xanthi recounts stories of her time in Greece when herself and her brother would go on their summer holidays there with their father. He drank heavily every evening, sharing anecdotes of his life and memories of old. He gave Xanthi and her brother more freedom than their mother, often arriving with very impractical gifts, clueless of how to act and be around children.
As Xanthi got older, she began to long for her father’s recognition, acknowledgement of her existence and, in his own small way, he did gratify this need. Over the years, as she approached adulthood, they conversed a little more, but the damage to Xanthi’s self -confidence was clear. Xanthi struggled for years with her own personal relationships. She had commitment issues and was perpetually in search of something that no-one could seem to help her with.
Following his cancer diagnosis, and subsequent death, Xanthi sought her father out in various places, unable to accept his passing. For years after she looked for him, finding nothing but a memory, a shadow.
Now she is finally coming to grips with his passing and moving on with her life.
“I don’t like missing you, that’s the truth of it. It’s uncomfortable. It makes me feel hollow and ungrounded, distant from the living people I care about. So it’s not as though I don’t miss you, the rest of the time, but that I had to learn how to let go of that feeling, to step away from the bereft daughter and look out of another window in myself. After however many years treading around in here, it’s easy enough to find the space”
Writing Will this house last forever? was, I’m sure, very cathartic for Xanthi Barker. It is a very intense exploration of a father and daughter relationship. A memoir at such a young age may seem strange but, I sense that it was necessary for Xanthi Barker to be able to accept her father posthumously for who he was. Throughout the book she refers to her father as ‘you’, making it a very personal reading experience, almost like a collection of letters, with her pain evident as the chapters open out. Sebastian Barker was an egotist, with seemingly little regret for the trail of devastation he left behind, as he fulfilled his own artistic endeavours. Did he see his behaviour as acceptable? Did he have any regrets?
Will this house last forever? is an extremely personal, raw, emotional and exposed memoir. It is an honest account of a daughter’s longing for a father who would love her as much as she loved him. A truly beautiful and evocative read, Will this house last forever? is a perceptive and poignant read.
[ Bio ]
Xanthi Barker was born in London where she still lives. Her fiction has been published in various magazines and anthologies and shortlisted for the Fish Prize. In 2017 she won the Short Story Prize and in 2019 her novelette One Thing was published by Open Pen.
Twitter – @xanthibarker