Picks and Pans Review: Caitlin: Life with Dylan Thomas

updated 05/25/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/25/1987 AT 01:00 AM EDT

by Caitlin Thomas with George Tremlett

Raw, angry and bitter, this memoir is by the wife of the late Dylan Thomas, who was called by British novelist Philip Toynbee "the greatest living poet in the English language." They were obviously no Ozzie and Harriet. As parents, Caitlin and her late husband may well have been the worst mother and father in Wales. Morbidly dependent, Caitlin dumped the couple's eldest son Llewelyn, then a toddler, with her mother so that she could go to live with Thomas in London. She left her other two small children alone at night on occasion. She once had an abortion after six months of pregnancy—the fetus had to be mutilated before removal—so that she could accompany Dylan on his second American visit. ("I wanted to give myself a bit of fun and enjoyment," she says.) Caitlin's perceptions, at times, would be funny if they were offered in jest. She tells Tremlett, for example, "...I never had an orgasm in all my years with Dylan, and that lies at the heart of our problems as if they had no other problems and life was one giant sex therapy clinic. Both Caitlin and Tremlett apparently are trying to portray a tale about genius and a love gone wrong. But it really seems more a story about two disturbed people engaged in a brutal emotional struggle. At times it escalated into physical abuse. Provoked by Thomas' chronic irresponsibility, Caitlin recalls beating him up, "pummelling him, punching him, grasping his curly hair and banging his head on the floor." Before his death in 1953 Dylan was planning to leave Caitlin. In his preface Tremlett writes that Caitlin believes Dylan had "betrayed her soul," which is, to say the least, a romantic interpretation of events. This memoir, though, is a valuable literary document, absorbing because of its unabashed honesty and the force of this woman's almost savage personality. (Holt, $17.95)

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