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Looking back on a happy marriage

29 November 2013

Fiona Hook on a film critic now a widower


See You In The Morning
Barry Norman
Doubleday £18.99
Church Times Bookshop £17.10 (Use code CT205 )

WHAT do you do when you lose your best friend, the woman to whom you have been married for 53 years, three months, two weeks, and a day? As a journalist, Barry Norman's first instinct was to write about it, both as catharsis and to share with the world the person he loved.

The book - part memorial, part memoir - tells in his usual relaxed and apparently effortless conversational style how Norman, then a gossip columnist for the Daily Sketch, met Diana, one of the few women on Fleet Street in the 1950s, when they both covered the same story. After a difficult period, they moved to Hertfordshire, restored a house, and had their two daughters.

Diana became a freelance writer, throwing herself into historical research with the energy she brought to everything. The result was ten quirky but accurate historical novels, including a minor classic, Fitzempress' Law, and later the invention of her medieval woman pathologist, Adelia Aguilar.

She was not perfect: she always knew best, had a talent for rows, and "could bear a grudge like nobody else", but Norman manages to show why their marriage worked so well. They gave each other space, often sitting together reading in silence over a restaurant meal.

Diana loved sailing; Barry, cricket - interests they were happy to pursue separately; but they were bound together by a love of books, plays, and music, and a deep respect for each other's talents.

The book does not end with Diana's death. Norman's way of coping has been to keep busy. But the house is very empty. "I'd give anything to have her back nicking my cigarettes and food and infuriating the hell out of me. Because I would also have her humour, her companionship, and her love. I really miss those things. And I guess I always will."

Fiona Hook is a writer and EFL teacher.

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