This mobility of voice and viewpoint — captured with zest by the translator Thilo Reinhard — lets Unquiet tell the kinds of truth no memoir could reach. Yet its paradoxical power depends on Ullmann’s devotion to her craft as novelist, not family chronicler. Neither reverent nor reductive, she allows the father his charismatic glow, his knack for making everyone feel like ‘the one and only’. She skewers his narcissism too, as grief and infirmity ring down a slow curtain on a lifelong melodrama of love-struck creativity.
However it’s a price worth paying for Ullman’s emotional intelligence. She is committed to rendering both parents in all their shifting complexity. In doing so, she unsentimentally captures real love. “I think I have mourned my parents all my life. They changed before my eyes the way my children change before my eyes and I don’t really know who I was to them.” Anyone who knows the living grief of loving a parent — however difficult — will understand exactly what she means.