Book Review – Only, by Caroline Baum


Caroline Baum

Allen & Unwin rrp. $32.99

Knowing Caroline, I was prepared for something good. I did not expect this, however. Caroline’s memoir has surpassed my expectations and has left me a little in awe of her. Only is utterly brilliant. Sophisticated, honest, enlightening, entertaining and beautifully written. This is the kind of memoir I have been waiting for. It is reminiscent of the early twentieth century writing I so enjoy.

Caroline’s family history is interesting – populated with extraordinary characters tossed hither and thither by war, love, changing political circumstances and the vagaries of business. But it is the relationship between Caroline and her parents which dominates this book. Her depiction of them is both honest and, I think, respectful. She gives us a portrait which rings true – sharing the good and the bad – allowing them to come forth as the complicated individuals I believe they must be.

Memoirs shouldn’t exist to satisfy our urge to pry into the lives of others, they should really exist to help us understand our own lives better, to instruct or enlighten. Only does this. Caroline’s honesty about her own foibles, as well as those of her parents, binds us to her. When she faces the turmoil of her father’s illness we go through it with her. These chapters are as raw as anything from Karl Ove Knausgaard. And because she is able to share her feelings so openly, we learn from her experience.

I picked the book up because I know Caroline Baum personally. I put it down realising I actually know nothing about her. Well… I do now.

In short, on very many levels, Only is a thoroughly satisfying read.

John Purcell. (



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