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Archive for the ‘Memoirs’ Category

I discovered Melissa Valentine’s memoir ‘The Names of all the Flowers‘ recently, through Olga’s recommendation, and I just finished reading it.

When Melissa Valentine moves back to Oakland after being away for many years, she gets in touch with her childhood friend and they catch up. Then this friend’s brother and their cousin also join and Melissa looks at this friend’s brother and remembers her own brother, whom she calls Junior, whom she loved very much, who was shot dead by unknown assailants when he was nineteen. The rest of the book is about Melissa and her family, and especially her brother Junior, the good times and the bad, and how things happened which ended in this heartbreaking tragedy.

Melissa is biracial – her mom is black and her dad is white. Her mom’s side relatives treat her and her siblings as one of their own, and they even accept her dad as a part of the family, while her dad’s side relatives attempt to show affection, but it looks like condescension. This adds to the complexity of her and her family’s experiences, because frequently they are treated as outsiders, both by the black and the white community, and so things are doubly hard and challenging for them. It is especially hard for the kids, especially Melissa’s brothers, and her favourite brother Junior gets beaten up in school for not being black enough. The book starts with this complex background and gives a perceptive and sensitive depiction on what it means to be a black teenager in today’s America. Melissa’s love for her brother Junior shines through in every page, and Junior comes through as a complex character, someone who is happy and cheerful to start with, but whom the system and society harass and pigeonhole into a box, and when Junior tries protecting himself by any means possible, it all ends in tragedy. It is moving, poignant, heartbreaking. I cried after I finished reading the book.

I loved ‘The Names of all the Flowers‘. I can’t wait to find out what Melissa Valentine will come up with next. This book is published by the Feminist Press and they continue to rock – this is the third consecutive amazing book by them that I’ve read.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Dad is a poet in the way he believes in life, the growing of things, of children. But his poetry is the kind people don’t understand, maybe he doesn’t either, the way it grows out of control, the desire for life so great it escapes even him; he cannot control this life. He loves children, which are another kind of life. I have observed the way he admires babies. He holds them awkwardly, kind of like the way he dances, as if his joints do not easily bend, moving choppily to a rhythm only he can hear. Instead of the normal way of holding a baby—bringing it to your chest, rubbing its back, smelling its skin—instead of the cooing and pleasantries most people make in the presence of babies, he stares into the child’s eyes lovingly, with reverence, while holding its head in his sandpaper palm. I have seen him do this with my baby cousins in Alabama. I have felt the discomfort of the people around him, wondering what this white man is trying to transmit into the skull of this black child. It is usually a black child he holds up with this kind of reverence.”

“She warns us not to show our true colors, warns us regularly—before we go to the neighbors’, before we go to school, before we go to Grandma’s. What color is that? Sometimes it is the color of desire—don’t show hunger, don’t show need or want of any kind to outsiders. But often it is something else—the color of the city, the color of the cement, the color of the curse words that often slip from our mouths, the blackness of our bodies that mixes with the white to make us what the little Southern kids call bright. “Why are you so bright?” they ask in earnest, and I look at them bewildered, wondering with my literal city ears what brightness they see in me. Bright, but still very much not white. Is that the color Mom means? The not-white? Or is it another color? She would prefer we act like we don’t come from the city, like our feet were born dusty, like we came from roads, not streets. She would prefer we act full, satisfied. Junior doesn’t care; he always shows his truest colors.”

“I know by now that nice and good are myths. There is no good, no nice. And if there is, it is impermanent. There is proof all around me : a homeless summer and a burned-down house full of trash that was masquerading as good, as nice; a brother whose bad follows him wherever he goes, no matter how nice—there is no protection from black boyness. Good and nice are only illusory feelings, but, at least for a moment, I enjoy wrapping myself up in the illusion.”

Have you read ‘The Names of all the Flowers‘? What do you think about it?

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I read the third and final part of Tove Ditlevsen’s memoir, ‘Dependency‘, today. There are going to be spoilers in the review, and so please be forewarned.

Dependency‘ starts with a surprise – Tove is married! It came as such a surprise to me, as I didn’t see that coming! Starting from there, Tove goes on to describe her married life, her writing experiences, how she falls in love again with another person and breaks up with her husband, how her quest for romantic happiness and marital bliss continues for the rest of her life with unpredictable results, the new friends she makes and how they shape her life – we learn about these and other things in the first part of the book.

There are some interesting things that the book describes which were probably unusual for that time. For example, at one point, Tove becomes a successful writer and her name comes in the papers and she makes lots of money, but her husband is still a student at university. This leads to some complicated situations at home. When Tove describes the troubles in her marriage to her friend, and says that she fears that her husband might leave her, her friend says this – “He is really proud of you; it’s obvious when he talks about you. You just have to understand that it’s so easy for him to feel inferior. You’re famous, you earn money, you love your work. Ebbe’s just a poor student who’s being more or less supported by his wife. He’s studying for a degree he doesn’t fit, and he has to get drunk to cope with life.” There is also a part in which Tove describes how she is romantically attracted to one of her girlfriends. I don’t know whether that led to something more, as Tove is quiet about that.

Tove also describes the time she has an unplanned pregnancy and has to get an illegal abortion, and how when it happens again, it leads to some unintended consequences, which in turn leads to a dark period in her life. In the second part of the book, Tove describes how she got addicted to painkillers, and how this addiction took over her life, and affected her relationships with her family and friends and everyone around her, and how she came out of that harrowing period in her life.

Dependency‘ is very different from the first two parts of the trilogy. Tove’s searing honesty as she describes her life and her struggles with addiction makes for a fascinating and difficult read. The second part of the book, which describes her descent into addiction, is especially hard to read. Tove’s bravery and courage as she lays bare her life is amazing and inspiring. This trilogy was first published in the period 1967-71, and I’m sure it must have created waves when it first came out, shocking and surprising readers with its frankness and honesty. I don’t think there was any memoir of that time which came close to this. I don’t think even Tove’s great French contemporary, Marguerite Duras, wrote a frank memoir like this. The closest I can think of is Erica Jong’sFear of Flying‘, but even that is classified as fiction. As a memoir, Tove’s trilogy is unparalleled and unique, and it was far ahead of its time. The first two volumes of this memoir were translated and published in English in 1985. The publishers and the translator refused to touch the third volume and for many years it was not available in English. It was finally translated 34 years later. After reading it now, I realize why. The third volume is very different from the first two, because it is more frank, more honest, and probably controversial for its time, and it shows the grownup Tove as a complex, beautiful, imperfect, flawed human being. How she mustered up the bravery and courage to put this on paper, I’ll never know. It gives me goosebumps, just thinking about it.

I loved ‘Dependency‘, though it was a challenging read. I loved the whole trilogy. It is a beautiful, insightful and frank depiction of the times as seen through the eyes of one person, the fascinating Tove Ditlevsen.

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite passages from the book.

“And I realize more and more that the only thing I’m good for, the only thing that truly captivates me, is forming sentences and word combinations, or writing simple, four-line poetry. And in order to do this I have to be able to observe people in a certain way, almost as if I needed to store them in a file somewhere for later use. And to be able to do this I have to be able to read in a certain way too, so I can absorb through all my pores everything I need, if not for now, then for later use. That’s why I can’t interact with too many people; and I can’t go out too much and drink alcohol, because then I can’t work the next day. And since I’m always forming sentences in my head, I’m often distant and distracted when Ebbe starts talking to me, and that makes him feel dejected.”

“I’ve never been out in the country before, and I’m amazed at the silence, which is like nothing I have ever experienced. I feel something resembling happiness, and I wonder if this is what is meant by enjoying life. In the evening I go for a walk alone while Ester watches Helle. The aromas from the fields and pine forest are stronger than on the day we arrived. The lighted windows in the farmhouse shine like yellow squares in the darkness, and I wonder what the people there do to pass the time. The man probably sits listening to the radio; and the wife probably darns socks which she pulls up out of a woven basket. Soon they’ll yawn and stretch and look out at the weather and say a few words about the work awaiting them in the morning. Then they’ll tiptoe to bed so as not to wake the children. The yellow squares will go dark. Eyes will shut all over the world. The cities go to sleep, and the houses, and the fields.”

Have you read ‘Dependency‘? What do you think about it?

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Today, I finished reading the second part of Tove Ditlevsen’s memoirs, ‘Youth‘. I read it in one breath.

In ‘Youth‘, Tove describes what happens after she goes to work, the different kinds of jobs she has, how her employers and colleagues are, the young men who are attracted towards her, how she can’t wait to turn eighteen and move out of her house and be independent – how she wants a room of her own as Virginia Woolf describes it, and which Tove describes eloquently thus –

“But I want so badly to have a place where I can practice writing real poems. I’d like to have a room with four walls and a closed door. A room with a bed, a table and a chair, with a typewriter, or a pad of paper and a pencil, nothing more. Well, yes – a door I could lock. All of this I can’t have until I’m eighteen and can move away from home.”

The book also describes how her parents resist Tove’s plans to become independent, how Tove becomes friends with literary-inclined older people with whom she has delightful bookish conversations, and her attempts at writing poems and getting them published. The book also touches upon the looming spectre of Nazism in Europe.

When Tove’s first poem gets published in a small literary magazine, she is thrilled. But her reaction to it was also complex and very interesting. It was one of my favourite passages from the book, and it goes like this –

“The next day two copies of Wild Wheat arrive in the mail and my poem is in both of them. I read it many times and get an apprehensive feeling in my stomach. It looks completely different in print than typewritten or in longhand. I can’t correct it anymore and it’s no longer mine alone. It’s in many hundreds or thousands of copies of the journal, and strange people will read it and may think that it’s good. It’s spread out over the whole country, and people I meet on the street may have read it. They may be walking about with a copy of the journal in their inside pocket or purse. If I ride in the streetcar, there may be a man sitting across from me reading it. It’s completely overwhelming and there’s not a person I can share this wonderful experience with.”

I loved ‘Youth‘. It is fascinating to watch how Tove navigates the complicated, messy adult world, and listening to her experiences through her own unique voice. I can’t wait to read the third part now, and find out what Tove’s upto next.

I’ll leave you with some of my favourite passages from the book.

“Being young is itself temporary, fragile, and ephemeral. You have to get through it – it has no other meaning.”

“Death is not a gentle falling asleep as I once believed. It’s brutal, hideous, and foul smelling. I wrap my arms around myself and rejoice in my youth and my health. Otherwise my youth is nothing more than a deficiency and a hindrance that I can’t get rid of fast enough.”

“I also like to look at people who in one way or another give expression to their feelings. I like to look at mothers caressing their children, and I willingly go a little out of my way in order to follow a young couple who are walking hand in hand and are openly in love. It gives me a wistful feeling of happiness and an indefinable hope for the future.”

“‘If you don’t stop being so strange,’ my mother says, ‘you’ll never get married.’ ‘I don’t want to anyway,’ I say, even though I’m sitting there considering that desperate alternative. I think about my childhood ghost : the stable skilled worker. I don’t have anything against a skilled worker; it’s the word ‘stable’ that blocks out all bright future dreams. It’s as gray as a rainy sky when no bright ray of sun trickles through.”

Have you read Tove Ditlevsen’sYouth‘? What do you think about it?

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I was inspired to read Tove Ditlevsen’s memoirs by one of my friends, who is an artist and a writer, and who is the biggest admirer of Tove Ditlevsen that I know. My friend has been gushing about Tove Ditlevsen for a long time, much before last year, when everyone started reading Ditlevsen after the recent English translation of her memoirs were published.

I read the first part of Tove Ditlevsen’s memoirs, ‘Childhood‘, today. Ditlevsen was born in 1918, when the First World War had just ended, and so it was a very different world then. ‘Childhood‘ describes the first decade and a half of Ditlevsen’s life. It brings that era beautifully alive, and interestingly it doesn’t feel like Ditlevsen is talking about a period which is nearly a century back, but it feels fresh like today. One of my favourite parts of the book is the one which describes how Tove fell in love with books, especially poetry, and how she started writing poetry of her own. I loved that part. Another thing that I loved about the book was when Tove describes how she hides her real thoughts and feelings from people around her, and pretends to be dumb and stupid, because she feels like an outsider as her thoughts are very different and unconventional compared to those around her. Those of us who are or have been outsiders will be able to understand exactly how Tove must have felt and will be able to identify with her. There are interesting characters who come through the book, including Tove and her brother and her parents and her teachers, her neighbours and her friends. Tove’s mother looks like a fascinating, complex person. Some of my favourite characters in the book were the minor ones who make a brief appearance, like the librarian who helps Tove borrow books for grown-ups, and Tove’s neighbour Ketty, who is her mother’s best friend, and who has an unconventional job, and who is kind and affectionate towards Tove. Tove’s friend Ruth is also a very fascinating character and made me think of Astrid Lindgren’s Pippi Longstocking. Tove’s grandmother is also a very interesting character. The book ends with Tove graduating out of middle school and getting ready to go to work and looking at the grownups’ strange world with apprehension.

I loved ‘Childhood‘. It is slim at around a hundred pages, but there is so much packed in those pages, including a commentary on the social and political situation of the times seen through a young girl’s eyes. Tove’s narrative voice is beautiful and authentic and unique. The writing is beautiful and there were many beautiful sentences and passages in the book. I’m sharing one of my favourites below.

“In the meantime, there exist certain facts. They are stiff and immovable, like the lampposts in the street, but at least they change in the evening when the lamplighter has touched them with his magic wand. Then they light up like big soft sunflowers in the narrow borderland between night and day, when all the people move so quietly and slowly, as if they were walking on the bottom of the green ocean. Facts never light up and they can’t soften hearts like Ditte menneskebarn, which is one of the first books that I read. ‘It’s a social novel,’ says my father pedantically, and that probably is a fact, but it doesn’t tell me anything, and I have no use for it. ‘Nonsense,’ says my mother, who doesn’t care for facts, either, but can more easily ignore them than I can. Whenever my father, on rare occasions, gets really mad at her, he says she’s full of lies, but I know that’s not so. I know every person has their own truth just as every child has their own childhood. My mother’s truth is completely different from my father’s truth, but it’s just as obvious as the fact that he has brown eyes while hers are blue. Fortunately, things are set up so that you can keep quiet about the truths in your heart; but the cruel, gray facts are written in the school records and in the history of the world and in the law and in the church books. No one can change them and no one dares to try, either – not even the Lord, whose image I can’t separate from Prime Minister Stauning’s, even though my father says that I shouldn’t believe in the Lord since the capitalists have always used Him against the poor.”

Have you read ‘Childhood‘? What do you think about it?

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One of my schoolmates shared a vintage Indian ad for a bicycle. It triggered off some nostalgic memories for me.

A vintage Indian ad showing an Indian woman in a sari riding a bicycle

I learnt how to ride a bicycle when I was around ten years old. When I was around twelve, my dad got me my own bicycle. During those days, the bicycles which were popular among pre-teens and teens were the models made by Hero and BSA. These models were cool and stylish and used to come in many colours – red and blue used to be favourites among young people. There were other brands which were popular among older people, like Hercules and Atlas and Philips which were heavy and sturdy. When my dad decided to get a bicycle for me, he took my uncle along. My uncle said that the best bicycle out there was Humber and the second best was Raleigh. Everything else was third. The prices seemed to indicate that – Humber was the most expensive and the second most expensive was Raleigh. I wondered why, because I couldn’t tell the difference between them and other brands. I had never heard of Humber or Raleigh before and none of my friends had them. Later I discovered that my uncle’s bicycle was a Humber. My dad asked me which one I wanted. Those days Indian kids were taught that they shouldn’t choose the best or the most expensive, because they didn’t deserve them, and they also shouldn’t choose the cheapest one because the quality of that wouldn’t be good, and so they should follow Aristotle’s golden mean and choose the one in between. So for me, Humber was out, and most other models were priced low and so they were out too. So Raleigh, it was. This is the kind of weird decision that people like me made those days, never comparing products and their features but using Aristotelean logic. None of my friends had a Raleigh bicycle or seen one, and as long as I had it, I was the only person I knew who had a Raleigh. Recently one of my schoolfriends told me that his grandfather had a Raleigh and he gifted it to my friend later.

I later discovered that Raleigh was a British company which was more than a century old and was a leader in bicycles once upon a time. Even decades after the British had left India, Indians continued loving and admiring British products and that showed in my uncle’s admiration for Humber and Raleigh. I wonder now whether the model I had was the original nineteenth century one and whether this was the bicycle Jerome K. Jerome wrote about in ‘Three Men in a Bummel‘.

Vintage British ads showing a young people riding Raleigh bicycles

The Raleigh bicycle that I got was heavy, but once I got used to it, it was good and I loved it. I started going to school in it and later to college. My first school was probably five kilometres away from my home and my second school was probably around ten kilometres away. Just cycling to school meant that I got a lot of exercise done naturally and it kept me very fit. I also went to the library and read a lot there, visited bookshops, went to movies, and helped my mom in buying groceries or for getting money for her from the bank. I didn’t do anything fancy with my Raleigh bicycle, but I took long rides in it, sometimes to travel from one place to another and sometimes for fun. It opened up new worlds for an introvert like me. I remember once I even took a ride on it to the university which was probably more than twenty kilometres away and another time I took a ride to the Agricultural college which was also of similar distance. My Raleigh almost never broke down when I was riding – it was sturdy and smooth and tough. A BSA bicycle which looked cool and stylish wouldn’t have been able to withstand the stress that I put my Raleigh through. Of course, the occasional issue cropped up. There were always tyre punctures which I had to contend with and once in a while there were major problems for which I had to take it to the bicycle service shop. The bicycle repair guy would tell me to come back after a couple of hours and collect my bicycle, but I would always stay and watch him work. When he removed the wheel and the inner parts of it and a lot of bearing balls came tumbling out, it was fascinating to watch! I didn’t know that a bicycle had so many intricate parts! The bicycle repair guy almost became my friend because of my visits to his repair shop and he taught me a lot of things about bicycles. When my sister got married, I invited him to the wedding. He didn’t come through. He knew what I didn’t know when I was young – that we were on different sides of the social divide and he would feel extremely awkward if he had come. I always felt that socioeconomic divides never mattered in a friendship and this is probably true when we are kids, but unfortunately, between grownups it always comes in the way at times, and makes things awkward, even if someone like me didn’t care about it.

There used to be bicycle races in my locality during festival times, when I was in my teens. These were not regular bicycle races, but were called ‘slow-cycle’ races. The competitors would ride a bicycle, but the winner would be the guy who rides his bicycle so slow that he comes last. The rules were simple – once you are on the bicycle, you can’t come off it or touch the street with your feet, and your bicycle has to be in continuous motion. It was a very tough competition, and most of the participants gave up halfway through, because they broke one of the rules. A guy called John was an expert in slow-cycle racing and he used to win every year. It was amazing to watch him expertly keep the bicycle balanced while at the same time riding it really slowly. We flocked every year to the street which doubled as the racing track to watch him showcase his brilliant skills and cheer him.

I had a few close shaves while riding my Raleigh. Once a bus came in front from the opposite direction and I swerved to one side to avoid it and I fell on the side of the road on top of some stuff which was piled up there. My hand was sprained and I had to get a plastercast which stayed for a month. Another time a bus came very close from behind me and it was speeding and it hit my hand which was holding the bicycle handle and nearly knocked me off. My hand was in pain for days after that. The third time, I nearly got caught between a bus and a lorry – I was trying to overtake a bus which had stopped at a bus stop, but the bus suddenly started and accelerated and a lorry was coming on the opposite side, and I nearly got caught between them. I don’t know how I survived that day. I have to thank my lucky stars.

I also met one of my best friends of that time because of my Raleigh. I was going to college one day and when I turned into the main road, my neighbour was walking. It looked like she had missed her bus to her office. I asked her if I could help and drop her at her office as it was on my way and she was happy to take my help. As our leaving times coincided in the morning, at some point we started leaving together in the morning and I started dropping her off at work everyday. We had many wonderful conversations on the way. She had been working for a few years and so was a grown-up while I was a student and so still a kid from her perspective. She became a big sister and mentor to me. My own sister became jealous of this friendship and tried putting spokes in it and it was funny for me to watch, because my own sister never bothered spending time with me before.

I rode my Raleigh for many years starting from my pre-teens till my middle twenties. Even after I finished college and went to work, though my office was too far to ride by bicycle, I used to ride it in the evenings or during weekends, going here and there. Then I left work and went to college again. That was the last time I rode my Raleigh, though I didn’t know it then. When I finished my second degree and came back home, it was gone. My dad told me that one of our neighbours had asked for it, and as I was away and the bicycle was gathering rust, he had sold it away. I felt sad. I had never had a pet, though I loved cats and dogs, and my Raleigh was the closest to a pet that I had ever had. I had never given it a name, like people do these days to their bicycles. I wish I had. I mourned the passing of my old friend which had served me loyally for many years.

When I was a kid, bicycles were a common sight in India. Most families had one. Sometimes they had more than one. Boys and girls had different kinds of bicycles. Young women wore saris and salwars and rode their bicycles to school or college or work. Women riding a bicycle wearing saris was a sight which was unique to India. But with the passing of time, things changed. Italian mopeds and scooters and Japanese bikes started arriving in India. While in Italy, mopeds were regarded as fun vehicles which one rented and rode during the holidays while going to the beach, in India they became vehicles which people used for regular transportation, for going to school and college and to work. People graduated from bicycles to mopeds to scooters to motorbikes. And later when the small cars of Italian or Japanese design arrived, those who could afford them, got them. Once upon a time Indian roads were filled with bicycles, and every street corner had a bicycle repair shop. But with all these big changes happening, and with more and more people able to afford these bigger faster vehicles, both bicycles and their repair shops disappeared. Bicycle manufacturers closed down or they started making motorbikes. Today, there is a motorcycle repair shop near my home which services fancy bikes like Harley Davidsons and Triumphs and KTMs, but there is no bicycle repair shop.

A bicycle was never a lifestyle thing in India, except maybe among teenagers. People didn’t ride it because they would stay fit. People rode it because it was a medium of transport which was very affordable. It turned out that it also helped them stay fit. But with other modes of transport becoming affordable, the bicycle died a quiet death. I have heard people from my parents’ generation say that things were better during old times. I generally don’t agree with that sentiment – as humans we always have a tendency to be nostalgic about our childhood or our teens and say that it was a golden era. But on one thing, I would say that things were better during old times. There were bicycles around then and most people learnt to ride them. Bicycles provided exercise without us even realizing it. I cycled 20 kilometres to my school and later to my college everyday. I didn’t do any other exercise. I hated doing exercise. But I loved cycling. And it kept me fit, as it did millions of others. I miss that.

In recent years, when the Tour de France became suddenly popular in India, there was a brief revival of cycling in India. But the people who were doing it were different from those who cycled during old times. These new guys were corporate types who admired Lance Armstrong and other Tour de France winners and imagined themselves in their shoes. These were the guys who never rode a bicycle in their lives before and who probably regarded a bicycle and it’s rider with contempt, but who now wanted to do it, because it was regarded as cool. They started posting pictures in social media with captions like ‘Me and my Bike’. So suddenly new types of bicycles started making an appearance on the roads with gears and reflectors and riders who wore helmets and sunglasses. International bicycle companies realized that there might be a market in India and they brought their overpriced racing bicycles here. One of my book club friends had three of them, and the highest priced bicycle he had cost as much as a small car. But like all fads, this one also died after a while. The new bicycle shops which sold fancy bicycles and accessories started closing down.

I never owned a bicycle again. I rode my friend’s bicycle a couple of times, but otherwise I haven’t even ridden one in years. I hope I haven’t forgotten how to ride. Sometime back I thought I’ll revive my bicycling. I don’t think I have the confidence now to ride on main roads or highways, but I thought I’ll take rides in my locality and maybe go to the beach. I went to the bicycle shop and checked out different models. I told the guy there that I’ll think about it and get back soon. But I procrastinated for too long and the shop closed down. Maybe I’ll try again when normalcy resumes. It will be interesting to see how this second innings of bicycling goes.

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I read Emma John’s first book ‘Following On‘, which is on cricket, recently, and I loved it so much that I decided to read her newest book ‘Self-Contained : Scenes from a Single Life‘. This one came out just ten days back and so it is literally hot off the press.

The book starts with a party to which Emma John is invited. She appears to be the only single person out there. At some point someone asks her the inevitable question – whether she is single or has a partner. Emma John takes off from there and explores the single life from different perspectives – as a sister, as a daughter, as a friend who hangs out with guys, as a woman with many girlfriends, as a woman whose roommate and best friend is a guy who is gay, as an aunt who is single, as a romantic partner who finds it hard to settle down. Emma John is frank and honest when she shares her story and the story of her family and friends, and sometimes she takes an unflinching look at herself which must have required an incredible amount of bravery and courage. Sometimes it is frustrating to read about the things she does, but it is hard not to admire her courage in sharing it. Through the book Emma John highlights the good things that the single life has to offer, while also talking about the things that single people yearn for, which they don’t have.

I loved ‘Self-Contained‘. It is a beautiful, insightful, thought-provoking book. It talks about an unconventional facet of life which is becoming increasingly important in today’s world. I’d like to say that it is a celebration of single life, but I don’t think it is. I think it is a nuanced portrayal of single life in all its complexity. I’m glad I read it.

I’ll leave you with a couple of my favourite passages from the book.

“Some say there is a state of flow inherent to manual pursuits, a hypnotic effect that encourages a mindful calm, and it is true that you can’t act out your anger with a roller brush (at least, not without splattering yourself). That night was my proof, however, that you can both paint yourself into a corner and decorate yourself into a depression. The moon was high outside the window by the time I gave up.”

“I often had fantasies about living in the past. A privileged past, obviously; I wasn’t interested in the world my real ancestors inhabited, struggling to keep their dozen children alive in a Welsh mining village or blacking the stoves of an east London slumlord. No, my escapism was born from a heady mix of my two favourite TV shows: Poirot, starring David Suchet, and Jeeves and Wooster, with my comic heroes Fry and Laurie in the eponymous roles. Both aired on ITV during my highly impressionable teenage years. The lead performances were sufficient to colour me obsessed; the intoxicating production design evoked a universe of its own. I quickly applied myself to the books too, reading and rereading them long after the plots had ceased to hold any surprises. Then came Dorothy L Sayers’s Lord Peter Wimsey stories and Brideshead Revisited – both the novel and the Anthony Andrews version. From then on, I immersed myself in pretty much anything that involved aristocrats, monocles or spats. Whenever I was bored of my surroundings – which happened frequently enough – I wished, with a passion that outweighed reason, that I had been born into the pages of these golden-age stories rather than my dull, unglamorous real life. I reimagined myself as one of their characters: a sharp-tongued, shingle-haired socialite with a devil-may-care attitude and a cigarette holder poised seductively between her lips. Her outline was drawn from 1930s detective stories and shaded with the devastating hauteur of a young Katharine Hepburn. She had the wise-cracking wit of Dorothy Parker, the intemperance of Zelda Fitzgerald and the stylistic flair of Elsa Schiaparelli. She was the sum of everything I wished I could be but wasn’t.”

Have you read ‘Self-Contained‘? What do you think about it?

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