The Three of Us

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Trade Paper
  • Copyright: 2009-07-14
  • Publisher: Vintage
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This is the story of three people: Julia Blackburn; her father, Thomas; and her mother, Rosalie. Thomas was a poet and an alcoholic who for many years was addicted to barbiturates, which would often make him violent. Rosalie, a painter, was sociable and flirtatious; she treated Julia as her sister, her confidante, and eventually as her deadly sexual rival. After Julia's parents divorced, her mother took in lodgers, always men, on the understanding that each would become her lover. When one of the lodgers started an affair with Julia, Rosalie was devastated; when he later committed suicide, the relationship between mother and daughter was shattered irrevocable. Or so it seems until the spring of 1999, when Rosalie, diagnosed with leukemia, came to live with Julia for the last month of her life. At last the spell was broken, and they were able to talk with an ease they had never known before. When she was very near the end, Rosalie said to Julia, "Now you will be able to write about me, won't you?" The Three of Usis a memoir like no other you have read. The writing is magical, and the story is extraordinary, not only for its honest but also for its humor and its lack of blame. Ultimately, this is a tale of redemption, a love story. It will surely become one of the classics of that genre. From the Hardcover edition.

Author Biography

Julia Blackburn is the author of seven books of nonfiction, including Old Man Goya, a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist and With Billie, which won the ASCAP Deems Taylor Award; and of the novels The Book of Color and The Leper’s Companions, both of which were short-listed for the Orange Prize. She lives in England.

From the Hardcover edition.


This Is

This is the story of three people. It is the story of my two parents and the three of us together, but it is also the story of the tangled fairy-tale triangle, which took shape between me and my mother and the succession of solitary men who entered our lives after my father had left.      

My father Thomas Blackburn was a poet and an alcoholic who for many years was addicted to a powerful barbiturate called sodium amytal, which was wrst prescribed for him in 1943. When the cumulative evect of the drug combined with the alcohol made him increasingly violent and so mad he began to growl and bark like a dog, he was tried out on all sorts of substitute pills, including one which he proudly said was used to tranquillize rhinoceroses.
He had two divorces and several breakdowns, but then at the age of sixty he had a vision of the afterlife, which made him happy because he realized he was no longer afraid of dying. A year later, in the early morning of 13 August 1977, he finished writing a long letter to his brother with the words ‘I am now going to lie down in a horizontal position and breathe long and deep.’ He then went upstairs and died from a cerebral haemorrhage, just as he was getting into bed.

He was disastrous in so many ways, yet I never felt threatened by him. I could be frightened of the madness and the drunken rages, but I never doubted the honesty of his relationship with me and that was what really mattered.  

My mother, Rosalie de Meric, was very diverent. She was a painter by profession and she rarely got drunk and didn’t use prescription drugs, and she was sociable and sane and xirtatious, and I was always afraid of her. Right from the start I was her sister and her conwdante and, eventually, her sexual rival, as the boundaries between us became increasingly dangerous and unclear. The battle we fought reached a crisis in 1966 when I was eighteen, and that crisis never really passed, the scent of rage and adrenaline hanging in the air as sharp as gunpowder.  

On the first day of March 1999, when she was eighty-two years old, my mother was told she had only a short time to live and she came to stay with me for what proved to be the last month of her life. Something crucial happened and the spell that had held us for so long in its grip like an icy winter was wnally broken, and we were able to laugh and talk together with an ease we had never known before. ‘I have never been so happy in all my life,’ she said. ‘How curious to be dying at the same time.’  

And when she was near the end and her voice had become so slow and deep it seemed to be emerging from the bottom of a well, my mother said, ‘Now you will be able to write about me, won’t you!’  

‘Yes, I will,’ I replied, because in that moment I felt she was giving me her blessing, making it possible for me to tell a story that otherwise I could never have told.  

During her final month I kept a journal, which recorded this brief and joyful time. I also exchanged faxes with my old friend Herman, who was living in Holland. He had come to visit me just a couple of days before my mother learnt that she was ill. Herman and I had first been lovers in 1966 and we wnally parted in 1973. He was the one person who knew all about the past and how important it was to sort things out before it was too late.  

I have used excerpts from my journal and from the faxes throughout the telling of this story; they are the thread that connects the beginning to the end.  

Herman and I were married in December 1999.      

A Supper Party  

Friday, 2 April 1965 and I know the date because I still have the diary I kept for that year.  

The supper party was at my father’s house: the house where he now lived with my stepmoth

Excerpted from The Three of Us: A Family Story by Julia Blackburn
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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