When Another Look undertakes a book event, we contact publishers, estates, and the stacks of Green Library to find out about the author and his work. We humbly sent up a white flag in the case of author J.L. “Jim” Carr, however. Aside from A Month in the Country, Green Library had a single book – the excellent Byron Rogers biography, The Last Englishman: The Life of J.L. Carr. We made the best of it.
After a little persistent nudging, we finally managed to reach his son Bob Carr via Quince Tree Press, the publishing house his father started and he now directs. He was pleased with the Stanford effort, and said so. His reply was charming and affable, and he sent us three photos to use in our publicity – two of them hadn’t been published before, to my best knowledge. But our offers for an interview were politely overlooked. Why?
Apparently the biographer had the same problem. From the book the last few pages of Byron Rogers’s The Last Englishman:
Carr was not an open man, neither was Bob, so theirs had been a perfectly friendly relationship with few confidences exchanged but no confrontations either. The result is that when you ask Bob Carr questions about his father, you sometimes feel you might just as well as be asking them of the lodger. Now nearing retirement as an archaeologist with Suffolk County Council, he is, as you will have gathered, not unaware of the humour of the situation. Asking Bob Carr questions provided the funniest, and most baffling, moments in this book.
Jim, he said, had in one of his rare confidences told Bob that he had tried to bring him up the way his own father had brought him up. That is that Joseph, a dour man, who when his son fell off his bicycle would himself cycle imperturbably on. The two had talked little.
“Looking back our relationship does seem unusual,” said Bob Carr, “but at the time I had nothing to compare it with. I must have been a poor child for my parents. I developed independence at an early age, so I didn’t go to them for approval. I did what I wanted to do, Dad did what he wanted to do. I remember that at one point he turned all the decorating of the house over to me. Bit daunting that at seventeen.
“But our relations were entirely amicable, apart from one thing. Every Saturday morning I was expected to report for duty, when a job would be found for me. A bit like the old youth hostels. I really resented that, for all the others my age would be going out for coffee and there I’d be creosoting a door. Did I remonstrate? No, I got on with the creosoting. There were never any rows. I suppose I learnt very early on to be sensitive to moods and when to make myself scarce, and I’ve continued in the same vein. It doesn’t concern me that I didn’t have a more challenging relationship with him.
“So part of me is mystified by people’s interest in Dad. All right, he wrote novels, but does that make him exceptional? He was my Dad, he wasn’t exceptional to me. But one thing does puzzle me. The rest of his life is in the novels, but I’m not, nor is my mother, and I saw the effect those thirteen years when she was ill had on him, all those hospitals and that emotional tennis. She was an immensely important part of his life, yet she isn’t in any of them. There’s this … absence.
“At the end, when he was terminally ill, I thought he might relax. I didn’t want a discussion on the meaning of life, I just stupidly thought it might be the occasion for intimacy. And at one point I actually told him it was a pity he hadn’t been a more intimate man. He agreed. “No, I’m not.” And that was that.