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These days I usually read crime fiction, but my love for Call the Midwife and the decency of actor Stephen McGann on Twitter led me to his non-fiction book, Flesh and Blood, in which he explores the history of the McGanns from the 1800s onwards in seven themed sections. In writing the book McGann combines three passionate interests – genealogy, which he has explored since he was 17, human drama, and an academic interest in the links between medical health and social context.
Each section, or essay really, starts with a description of the sickness or malady (‘Medicine’), then describes a period in the McGann family history (‘History’) and finishes with a more personal recollection (‘Testimony’). Sometimes the links seems a little forced, but the stories in this book are so compelling, you easily forgive him for shoe-horning them in. Among other things he covers the Great Famine in Ireland, the sinking of the Titanic, the Second World War and, more recently, Hillsborough, in each case delicately picking out the human impact of being involved in such historical events.
Running through this is his own personal story. He’s startlingly honest about the evolution of relationships within his own immediate family, and very good at describing the roles that we all come to play within our families. It’s fascinating stuff.
It feels like McGann is looking for something throughout the book. At the end, he asks himself the question, ‘Who am I?’ For him the answer is, ‘I am a single beat in the history of the family that bore me.’ He comes across as a decent, passionate soul and I recommend this for anyone interested in modern history, family matters and those interested in ‘what makes us tick’.