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You're Wearing That?

You're Wearing That? Understanding mothers and daughters in conversation. By Deborah Tannen. Virago pound;9.99

A key theme in this book is that of "interference". It's exemplified in an incident - in a section called "Small Spark, Big Flare-up" - where a woman called Kathryn is preparing tomatoes. Her mother, watching, asks Kathryn if she is going to quarter them. Kathryn bridles a little and says, yes, she was going to do that. Mother then says, "It's just that personally, I would slice them."

And, as Kathryn slices them, "she thought, Can't I do anything without my mother letting me know she thinks I should do it some other way?"

And that's the way mothers and daughters are - often, perhaps always - having doomed conversations from which they then have to extricate themselves with various degrees of huffiness. Bystanding men can always see it coming, as the author recognises. "A man commented to me that when he listens to a friend talking to her grown daughter on the telephone, he hears her raise topics (he calls them "neuralgic points") that he knows will cause their amiable conversation to take an unpleasant turn."

There's so much in this excellent, insightful book. For me it casts light on previously half-recognised feelings and experiences and, importantly, provides wise advice. It'll prove genuinely helpful to all - fathers and brothers as well as mothers and daughters - who are involved in the eternal challenge of keeping the wheels on the old family coach.

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