In My Mother’s Hands by Biff Ward

I have fiddled around with this review for weeks and it’s only today that I realised what was bothering me – other reviews (settle down, I won’t name names).

Biff Ward’s memoir, In My Mother’s Hands, describes her life growing up in the 40s and 50s. Biff has a younger brother, Mark, but there was also baby Alison, who drowned in her bath before Biff was born. The drowning occurred because Biff’s mother was ‘distracted’  – it was an event that would have a deep effect on their lives in many ways and would continue to haunt Biff for decades. Biff’s father, historian Russel Ward, was charismatic, strong and outspoken. He was also short-tempered and frequently unfaithful to his wife.

We may not have had ideas we could voice but we breathed it in, the irrational in her, the grief in him and the unpredictability all around. Continue reading

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The Museum of Words by Georgia Blain

There’s a saying that truth is stranger than fiction and Georgia Blain’s exquisite posthumous memoir, The Museum of Words is testimony to this.

We often expect reality as we experience it to be less dramatic than fiction, and most of the time it is. But this was a perfect storm: a confluence of dark clouds gathering, all lined up in the horizon, every one of them heading my way. Continue reading

Unbearable Lightness by Portia de Rossi

Unbearable Lightness is de Rossi’s story of her eating disorder (she suffered both bulimia and anorexia). Much of the book is focused on the ‘physical’ elements of her experience – dieting to fit into the modelling world that she became a part of from age 12, constantly under the scrutiny of a camera, the stress of wardrobe fittings. She goes into great detail about her exercise regime and what she ate (and vomited). The details are horrifying –

Continue reading

My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff

New York, 1995, and newly graduated 23-year-old Joanna Rakoff has deserted her ‘nice college boyfriend’ and has moved into a slope-floored, unheated apartment in New York with domineering Don – a Marxist, aspiring writer, and everyday arsehole.

Although she dreams of becoming a poet, Rakoff takes a job as an assistant at the literary agency that represents J. D. Salinger. The ‘Agency’ is from another era – plush wood-panelled offices complete with Dictaphones and typewriters; old-time agents doing business their way, including martini lunches and afternoon naps; and a boss (‘swathed in a whiskey mink, her eyes covered with enormous dark glasses, her head with a silk scarf in an equestrian pattern’) who keeps track of her authors on specially printed index cards. Her boss notes –

‘…agents used to be upstanding. None of these multiple submissions…no auctions, with publishers bidding against each other. It’s uncouth. That’s not the Agency way. We send things out to one editor at a time. We match writers with editors. We have morals.’ Continue reading

Non-fiction November – Book Pairings

I’m not a huge reader of non-fiction but my book shelves reveal my weaknesses – books about genetics, pop-science, the Art Deco era, and memoirs (am I allowed to count them as non-fiction?) make up the bulk of my non-fiction reading.

On the strength of that (and a little belatedly), I have decided to take part in Nonfiction November (spotted at JulzReads and Sarah’s Book Shelves).

This week’s non-fiction topic is ‘book pairings’ – pair a non-fiction title with a fiction title. Continue reading

Sample Saturday – doctors, rivals, and comfort food

Sample Saturday is when I wade through the eleventy billion samples I have downloaded on my Kindle. I’m slowly chipping away and deciding whether it’s buy or bye. This week, all three books were spotted on my Goodreads feed –

This is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Junior Doctor by Adam Kay Continue reading

Once We Were Sisters: A Memoir by Sheila Kohler

There’s a line in Sheila Kohler’s memoir, Once We Were Sisters, that is representative of much of her story – ‘As is so often the case, truth is crueller than fiction.’

Kohler begins with the terrible moment when she discovered that her sister, Maxine, had been killed. Maxine’s husband drove them off a deserted road in Johannesburg – he survived the crash, she did not. Continue reading