‘I know it may be seen as a be­trayal of my fam­ily’

The Daily Telegraph - Review - - Books -

What do you do if you feel your life story has been colonised by the me­dia? Do you ig­nore the fact, or re­claim the story? And if you choose to re­claim it, what might the con­text for that be? How much can you re­ally con­trol?

Si­grid Raus­ing, whose sis­terin-law Eva was found in her home two months after her death from a drug over­dose in 2012, has re­sponded by writ­ing a mem­oir, en­ti­tled May­hem. The book is riv­et­ing, clear-sighted and ex­cep­tion­ally ar­tic­u­late. But it’s not ir­rel­e­vant that news of it should be brought to you by me, a mem­ber of the me­dia. As I write, a vaguely sick feel­ing sets in, of cir­cu­lar­ity or com­plic­ity. Where is the cor­rect place to stand on all of this?

That ques­tion un­der­lies, in much big­ger type, Raus­ing’s tale, and her own con­cerns about telling it. Early in the book, she warns: “I write, know­ing that writ­ing at all may be seen as a be­trayal of fam­ily; a sham­ing, ex­ploita­tive act. Any­one read­ing this who thinks so, please know that I thought it be­fore you.” When I speak to her over the phone, she adds: “I have a lot of anx­i­ety about pub­lish­ing the book.” And any­one fa­mil­iar with the broad facts of the story might imag­ine that to be an un­der­state­ment.

By the time of her death, Eva Raus­ing had been mar­ried to Si­grid’s brother Hans for 19 years. They had met in re­hab, and had had four children be­fore they re­lapsed. Eva’s body was found by po­lice, be­hind a locked door in a squalid room of the Raus­ings’ oth­er­wise lux­u­ri­ous home – and found then only be­cause Hans had been ar­rested on sus­pi­cion of driv­ing un­der the in­flu­ence of drugs. The body had been hid­den un­der lay­ers of bed­ding and clothes and tele­vi­sion screens.

“I took some mea­sures to re­duce the smell,” Hans was quoted as say­ing, in a state­ment read out in court. He pleaded guilty to the preven­tion of a law­ful burial, and re­ceived a sus­pended jail sen­tence, along with an or­der to un­dergo re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. “If ever there was an il­lus­tra­tion of the ut­terly de­struc­tive ef­fect of drug mis­use on an in­di­vid­ual and their fam­ily,” the judge said at the time of sen­tenc­ing, “it is to be found in the facts of this case”.

Si­grid Raus­ing’s book, pub­lished this week, has al­ready drawn fire. Eva’s fa­ther, Tom Ke­meny, is­sued a state­ment last month, in which he de­scribed the book as “self-in­dul­gent and pre­ten­tious”, and said it had “greatly harmed and up­set the fam­ily”. He also al­leged that his daugh­ter would be alive to­day if she had not been sep­a­rated from her children dur­ing the tur­bu­lent years when she and her hus­band were in the throes of ad­dic­tion. As Raus­ing points out, this is un­likely, since the year be­fore they were taken from her Eva had al­most died of a heart in­fec­tion, prob­a­bly caused by dirty nee­dles.

There are a num­ber of ques­tions an out­sider could ask in re­sponse to that ac­cu­sa­tion. But Raus­ing is­sued a cir­cum­spect re­ply. “Tom Ke­meny de­nies that a drug re­lapse makes peo­ple bad par­ents, which he must know is an as­ton­ish­ing de­nial of the re­al­ity of drug ad­dic­tion,” she stated. “How­ever much par­ents love their children, if they are suf­fer­ing from drug ad­dic­tion they are not able to take care of them, or, in­deed, of their house­hold.”

When we speak, Raus­ing ap­pears to be sym­pa­thetic to Ke­meny, though she adds that she was up­set by his ac­tions. “He is a man whose daugh­ter died,” she says, in her quiet, care­ful way.

“He feels that my por­trait of Eva in the book is not a sym­pa­thetic one. I dis­agree with that. Fun­nily enough in writ­ing the book, I felt closer and closer to her. I felt I un­der­stood much bet­ter what hap­pened. And I felt very strongly the sad­ness of it. [Ke­meny] had this need to see Eva as a kind of perfect wife and mother. I just wish that there was room for her to be a hu­man be­ing who wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily perfect. None of us is perfect. I wish there was less judg­ment about who peo­ple be­come.”

Raus­ing, Hans and their sis­ter Lis­bet are the bil­lion­aire heirs to a for­tune de­rived from the in­ven­tion, in Swe­den, of Te­tra Pak, the coated car­ton pack­ag­ing in which milk and juices have been stored all over the world since the Six­ties. Hans was the youngest, and “all of our favourite”. Si­grid is now a phi­lan­thropist, who has given hun­dreds of mil­lions of pounds to hu­man rights or­gan­i­sa­tions. She is also an ad­ven­tur­ous in­de­pen­dent pub­lisher, whose lit­er­ary im­prints – Granta and Por­to­bello – have won numer­ous awards. She ed­its

Five years after her sis­ter-in-law’s drugs-re­lated death, Si­grid grid Raus­ing has pub­lished her own ver­sion of events. She tells Gaby Wood why hy ‘No one is perfect. I wish there was less judg­ment about who we be­come’

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