Elegant melancholy without the
AUTOBIOGRAPHICAL writing carries big risks, even — or especially — for a seasoned writer with several novels under her belt. A beginner may have the innocent belief that their life story is uniquely fascinating; an established writer knows that the world is full of fascinating life stories and that she must rely on more. Fiction writing radiates from the writer’s psyche, protecting the essential human core; autobiographical writing exposes it. You are opening yourself and your loved ones not only to warmth and empathy but also to intrusive curiosity and amateur psychoanalysing, not to speak of unpleasant repercussions within the family circle.
Despite it all, there may well arise a moment in any writer’s life when one feels one must set things down, to try and understand one’s life, to achieve a kind of reckoning with the past. Georgia Blain’s memoir, made up of interlinked autobiographical pieces, has that feeling about it, a sense of a time come. The author of four successful novels, she is acutely aware of those risks, but has attempted in this book to capture the essence of her own lived truth, and that of her family.
The middle child and only girl of three children, she is the daughter of writer, filmmaker and broadcaster Anne Deveson and broadcaster Ellis Blain. In childhood, she was accustomed to the public gaze through her mother’s radio programs and weekly columns, which often focused on suitably transformed family life.
Adoring her mother, but scared of her father, the child Georgia was to experience the breakup of her parents’ marriage, her father’s death from cancer while she was still in high school, and the gradual disintegration of her older brother Jonathan, who was first diagnosed with schizophrenia when he was a teenager and died in his late 20s ( and who was the subject of Anne Deveson’s famous book, Tell Me I’m Here ).
In the early parts of the book, Blain approaches these shattering events in an elliptical way. Instead of focusing on them directly, she recounts stories of the high- octane yet eccentric lifestyle she and her siblings lived with their mother after the break- up of the marriage. She
of writes about an experience with a teacher who extols Mao’s Cultural Revolution and displays Red Guard- style psychological brutality in a shocking incident involving a class pest. She writes of listening to a tape of a radio interview her father did with Germaine Greer in the early 1970s; this is the only real exploration we get of her feelings about her father, though there are hints scattered throughout of her fear of his unpredictable fury and depression. She writes of having sex for the first time at 16, a typically unsatisfactory experience; then segues into the events of her adult life, her relationship with her husband, and the tumultuous but ambiguous feelings aroused in her by pregnancy and the birth of her daughter. Later, she writes directly about Jonathan and the effect his illness had on