May­hem: A Mem­oir by Si­grid Raus­ing

A pow­er­ful and re­morse­ful ac­count of the drug ad­dic­tion that led to the death of Eva Raus­ing

The Guardian - Review - - Review - Lara Feigel’s The Bit­ter Taste of Vic­tory is pub­lished by Blooms­bury.

WLara Feigel

hen the story broke in July 2012, it had all the in­gre­di­ents of a thriller. A man had hid­den his wife’s body un­der a tar­pau­lin in their bed­room for three months and sealed the room with duct tape. On ar­rival, the po­lice en­coun­tered a drug den, lit­tered with heroin and its para­pher­na­lia, which stank of de­cay­ing flesh. What was more, we didn’t need to feel sorry for them be­cause they were so rich. Hans Kris­tian Raus­ing was the heir to the multi­bil­lion Te­tra Pak for­tune; the drug den was a bed­room in a well-staffed £70m Chelsea man­sion. It was a story too ghoul­ish to un­der­stand deeply, yet now Hans’s sis­ter, the Granta pub­lisher Si­grid Raus­ing, has writ­ten a book in which she sets out to do so. “Can a book about this story ever be framed by any­thing other than tabloid head­lines?” she asks.

In seek­ing an al­ter­na­tive to the head­lines, Raus­ing of­fers thought­ful­ness and in­tro­spec­tion. She also pro­vides a lot of self-flag­el­la­tion. She was there in Hans’s 20s when he first be­came a drug ad­dict, yet she failed to no­tice what was hap­pen­ing. She was there in 2000 when Hans and Eva first re­lapsed, af­ter a happy seven-year mar­riage that pro­duced four chil­dren. She in­ter­vened by writ­ing emails plead­ing with them to re­turn to re­hab, and now she blames her­self for the prig­gish tone of these mes­sages and for their in­evitable in­ef­fec­tu­al­ness. En­cour­aged by so­cial work­ers who told her that oth­er­wise the chil­dren would be taken into care, she took le­gal mea­sures to gain cus­tody of their four chil­dren, and she blames her­self for bring­ing them up too strictly. “I see my com­plic­ity, my guilt. I see my tired­ness, my hope­less­ness; my false moral su­pe­ri­or­ity, my fin­ger wag­ging, wag­ging. I re­gret ev­ery­thing.”

Given Raus­ing’s own priv­i­lege, this seems a sen­si­ble tac­tic. But what gives this book its as­ton­ish­ing power is not the guilt, but the in­tel­li­gence and lit­er­ary skill. As a nar­ra­tive, it’s beau­ti­fully struc­tured, weav­ing its way from the fam­ily’s child­hood hol­i­days in ru­ral Swe­den to their lives in Lon­don, re­turn­ing al­ways to the hideous im­age of Hans and Eva’s bed­room as the dark cen­tre of the story. Raus­ing sets the scene with painterly del­i­cacy and then steps back to an­a­lyse the im­pli­ca­tions of what she’s re­vealed, al­ter­nat­ing be­tween her knowl­edge at the time and her sub­se­quent un­der­stand­ing.

This is an ef­fec­tive ap­proach, par­tic­u­larly be­cause it leaves the reader mov­ing be­tween ac­cept­ing and ques­tion­ing the nar­ra­tor’s point of view. When it comes to scru­ti­n­is­ing her own mo­ti­va­tion, Raus­ing doesn’t al­ways seem a re­li­able wit­ness. Eva claimed that Raus­ing and her hus­band Eric had seized the chil­dren be­cause they wanted more chil­dren them­selves; Raus­ing main­tains that she was do­ing it solely out of the urge to pro­tect. Pre­sum­ably the an­swer is some­where in be­tween. In the self-flag­el­lat­ing pas­sages, Raus­ing im­plies that there is more she could have done, but else­where she’s clear that she did all she could. She ap­pears in these con­tra­dic­tions still not to have de­cided the ex­tent of her re­spon­si­bil­ity or guilt. How­ever, she seems at least par­tially aware of this, and what makes the ap­proach ef­fec­tive is that when it comes to open­ing up wider ques­tions of cul­pa­bil­ity or the na­ture of ad­dic­tion, she is con­sis­tently more sub­tle than we would ex­pect in a mem­oir of this kind.

At the heart of the book is the ques­tion of ad­dic­tion, and its place in the med­i­cal and the so­cial frame­work. “Of all the self-in­flicted wounds of hu­man­ity, ad­dic­tion, it seems to me, is one of the most tragic,” Raus­ing writes. It’s tragic be­cause the ad­dicts’ in­di­vid­u­al­ity is erased by the pre­dictabil­ity of the progress of the dis­ease. There is no medicine ex­cept the drugs that de­stroy them, and help from those who love them man­i­fests it­self as an ex­er­cise of power.

To what ex­tent do we see the ad­dict as re­spon­si­ble for the con­di­tion and the pain in­flicted? Raus­ing does an im­pres­sive job of em­brac­ing pos­si­ble in­ter­pre­ta­tions. “We haven’t agreed, as a so­ci­ety, how far drug ad­dicts are guilty of their many and var­ied tres­passes against the law, their fam­i­lies and so­cial norms. You can’t be found both in­sane and guilty – you are one or the other.”

She seems right that the ad­dict sits some­where be­tween cul­pa­bil­ity and in­san­ity. There is a point where we can blame some­one for fail­ing to re­strain them­self, and a point be­yond this. Hans, hid­ing Eva’s body be­cause he couldn’t face the real­ity of her death and was suf­fi­ciently drugged to be ca­pa­ble of de­lud­ing him­self, was clearly be­yond this point. But were he and Eva cul­pa­ble when they first sipped their fate­ful glasses of cham­pagne at a party on the eve of the mil­len­nium? Were they to blame when, de­spite know­ing where drugs had led them in the past, they al­lowed this first con­tact with al­co­hol to lead so swiftly into a cock­tail of drugs and lies?

Be­hind this is the ques­tion of what causes ad­dic­tion in the first place. Ac­cord­ing to DSM-5, the stan­dard clas­si­fi­ca­tion of men­tal dis­or­ders used by men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als in the US, 40-60% of the risk of al­co­holism is ge­netic, though drug ad­dic­tion is less quan­tifi­able. Is it a ge­netic mu­ta­tion or a psy­cho­log­i­cal con­di­tion, or part of a cul­ture of re­bel­lion? As chil­dren of the 1960s, the Raus­ings were given free­dom and Hans’s ini­tial for­ays into drugs were a part of this. “Some fam­i­lies are over­pro­tec­tive,” Raus­ing ob­serves, but oth­ers, “like ours, take a se­cret pride in the wild”. Per­haps Hans was re­belling; per­haps Eva wanted to be free of the or­der she’d cre­ated in her Lon­don life. But the same can’t be said of the des­per­ate fig­ures Raus­ing en­coun­tered when watch­ing a TV pro­gramme about drug ad­dic­tion in Mom­basa.

She de­scribes a gen­er­a­tion wiped out by the heroin that is plen­ti­fully avail­able be­cause the coun­try lies on the smug­gling route west from Afghanistan and Pak­istan. A woman called Roshana sits cry­ing in a squalid room, show­ing the cam­era pho­to­graphs of the four sons who have been “taken away by drugs”. Her re­main­ing son is so ad­dled by heroin that he can’t re­mem­ber his mother’s name. “Did Roshana fail them in some fun­da­men­tal way?... Or were they in the wrong place at the wrong time, fall­ing into some­thing so sweet, so de­li­cious; so soft and lov­ing that they didn’t even see their mother’s pain?”

Roshana, sur­rounded by drugs and fake doc­tors pre­pared to in­ject their pa­tients, could not, it seems, have done more. But what of the priv­i­leged Raus­ings, with ac­cess to ev­ery form of re­hab? The big­gest unan­swer­able ques­tion here con­cerns the lim­its of re­spon­si­bil­ity – when does tak­ing re­spon­si­bil­ity for some­one else’s men­tal state be­come an un­ac­cept­able form of co­er­cive con­trol? Per­haps, Raus­ing won­ders at one point, Hans and Eva were con­tent in their bub­ble of drugs, what­ever de­struc­tion it was caus­ing to those around them. Per­haps this was their right? It is not sur­pris­ing that Raus­ing turned to Jane Austen and CS Lewis in the weeks af­ter learn­ing about Eva’s death. She was seek­ing a moral uni­verse ti­dier than her own.

208pp, Hamish Hamil­ton, £18.99

To or­der May­hem for £14.44 go to book­shop.the­guardian.com or call 0330 333 6846.

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