Viv Al­ber­tine To Throw Away Un­opened

The Saturday Paper - - Books -

Viv Al­ber­tine’s first mem­oir, 2014’s Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Mu­sic, Mu­sic, Mu­sic. Boys, Boys, Boys was a crit­i­cally ac­claimed award win­ner. Her sec­ond is a more in­ti­mate de­con­struc­tion of the fam­ily forces that shaped her, firstly as an in­flu­en­tial punk pioneer and now as an an­gry six­tysome­thing sin­gle mother and re­luc­tant dater.

The spine of the story is the death of her adored mother, Kath­leen, at 95 on the night of Al­ber­tine’s first book launch, and its reper­cus­sions. Again Al­ber­tine’s un­flinch­ing hon­esty/ex­hi­bi­tion­ism and charm is on full dis­play. She’s a gor­geous writer and an el­e­gant thinker, and sprin­kled through­out are quotes and telling anec­dotes that give con­text to her ex­plor­ing. Some­times, though, this makes for a dis­cur­sive, frac­tured story. One key event, a punch-up be­tween Al­ber­tine and her sis­ter Pas­cale lit­er­ally on their mother’s deathbed, which sends them both to emer­gency, is sliced so thinly and spread so widely that its emo­tional im­pact is di­min­ished.

In an at­tempt to un­pick the fe­roc­ity of the fight and un­der­stand the fam­ily dy­nam­ics be­hind her re­la­tion­ship with her sis­ter, Al­ber­tine reads both her late par­ents’ di­aries. Her par­ents di­vorced when she was young and she’d been es­tranged from her late fa­ther, Lucien, for much of his life but hadn’t read his pa­pers; Kath­leen’s she found in an old Aer Lin­gus bag, with “To Throw Away Un­opened” writ­ten on the front in Tippex. Al­ber­tine quotes from both di­aries – but which of her par­ents is ly­ing? Or are they both telling the truth?

There are depths to her par­ents that Al­ber­tine hadn’t faced be­fore. The writ­ing on Kath­leen’s bag pro­vides a clue: she was well and ac­tive for most of her later life and shred­ded other doc­u­ments be­fore her death. Why keep her di­aries and in­struct Al­ber­tine, her re­bel­lious, non-con­form­ist child, not to read them? How much of ev­ery­one is a con­structed fa­cade de­signed to leave emo­tional weight on some­one else’s shoul­ders?

Al­ber­tine the au­thor is an in­se­cure woman who wor­ries about hair re­growth be­tween waxes and puts up with dud boyfriends – is this re­ally the same per­son who shocked the world with The Slits? It’s im­pos­si­ble to know how much of this me­moirist per­sona is it­self an art­ful con­struc­tion, but she’s aware that we each con­tain mul­ti­tudes. To Throw Away Un­opened is an en­gross­ing reminder that no one is solely the ex­ter­nal image they present to the world. LS

Faber, 304pp, $39.99

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