I was musing this morning on the mundanity of relations. Great men and women seem to us to stand apart from society, staring down at the sea of mediocrity like sharp rocks on a clifftop. They seem like random satellites, spinning alone in the dark vastness of space. They fly like kites above the clouds of the commonplace. What good does it do us to know that the most talented Hungarian novelist of the age has a sister who works part-time in a bakery?
I was as shocked as anyone to find out that Pyetr Turgidovsky, nihilist extraordinaire, was not a lone crow in a field of sparrows. Which is to say, not only does he have close family, but a fair amount of it too, including (indeed) another writer, his cousin Valery (see here). The same goes for Alexis Pathenikolides, whose brother Giorgos hit the headlines recently, for his crimes against squirreldom (wander this way). Now I discover that a close friend, Mr Jean-Pierre Sertin (author of the wonderful p.52) has been hiding a brother of his own.
Of course, many of us have hidden siblings. You can’t expect everyone to present the life stories of their brothers and sisters the moment one meets. And yet, when these things do, at last, dribble out, one always senses a shift in the relationship. One sees the person from another perspective, in a different role: as a family member, a little brother, a big sister, or the seventh of nine children. One forces oneself to remember that these people, these artistés, inhabit a world just like ours after all. Amidst profound conversations with fictional characters, they probably have to contend with a call from their sister telling them that their mother is going into hospital to have her hip looked at. Dusting off a chapter of undoubted literary excellence, they drop off a postcard to their cousin Ruth asking how the guinea pigs are and whether she still has the recipe for that cheesecake she made last autumn. Few of us are, or ever will be, free of family.