Dee Gordon is a prolific author with a string of books about Essex local history. Until now, the subject matter has been all about Essex and nothing about Dee herself.

That all changes with the publication of My Little Brother, My Little Life, which covers a subject close to home and about as personal as you can get. The book is a novel, but it is absolutely clear where the author has found her material.

The open giveaway lies in the book’s dedication: “To my autistic son Ben, who has been an inspiration in more ways than he knows...”

Ben’s fictionalised counterpart is Douggie, portrayed as the brother, not the son, of the narrator, Linda, but the sibling relationship is deep and close.

The book tracks Linda’s personal life from the day in 1957 when her mother leaves home without a word, through adolescent traumas, marriage, motherhood, divorce, and a new relationship.

People come and go in Linda’s life as she develops and matures, but her autistic brother remains a constant.

Only now, as “Linda”

settles down to consider how Douggie and his autism have affected her life and her most critical decisions, does the full impact of that presence become apparent.

At every key point in the novel – the death of Linda’s father, separation from her feckless lorry-driver husband, family problems with her own adolescent daughters – the questions pops up: “What about Douggie?”

Yet Douggie, in his own way, is a source of stability rather than another family problem. He remains the same in his fifties as he was in his childhood, still obsessed with films and video games, still refusing to share his marshmallows with Linda.

The question: “What about Douggie?” is a practical one, but also emotional.

There are moments of irritation related to Douggie’s autism, but no hint of bitterness or resentment at the shackles that Douggie has tied around Linda. As Linda examines her response, there is a sense that the veil of fiction is very light indeed.

So many fledgling novelists turn to slam bang action as a form of self-expression. Dee’s project is both gentler, and vastly more ambitious – to convey what it like to make yourself completely vulnerable to another person, to give one hundred per cent and expect nothing back in return, except, hopefully, some sign of love returned.

In the book, this is portrayed as a sister-brother relationship. But of course, it is also the essence of motherhood.

The other arc of the book concerns Linda’s relationship with her own mother, if relationship is the right word for a bond with a vacuum. The book opens with the mother’s departure, without so much as a “goodbye”. Her only, oblique, message to her daughter is the gift of a journal.

Yet while she may have vanished, Audrey Norton still remains a powerful presence in the life of her daughter.

Decades pass, and then the book climaxes with a reunion that proves explosive and ultimately tragic. Douggie lies at the nerve centre of this drama.

High drama, though, is mostly absent from this book.

As a novelist, Dee Gordon shows a strong ability to evoke the pulse of everyday life, and a mastery at evoking unspoken feelings and the quiet compromises that make life manageable.

She says she has “a list of unwritten novels in her head”. Anyone who reads My Little Brother, My Little Life, will wait with keen expectation for the next one.

ý My Little Brother, My Little Life by Dee H. Gordon is published by GWL Publishing at £9.99 ISBN 978 1 910603 05 5