And ex­hil­a­rat­ing

Irish Independent - Weekend Review - - BOOKS -

It’s a won­drous, un­ex­pected place to find one­self on the first page of a mem­oir, and it sets the pace for a book that turns out to be ex­traor­di­nary, taut and ex­hil­a­rat­ing. Less How To Be A Woman, more How This One Woman Lived.

De­spite Em­i­lie’s pleas and protes­ta­tions down the years, her fa­ther (the writer Richard Pine) has im­mo­lated him­self with al­co­hol.

Liv­ing in a re­mote part of Greece, he’s on the brink of liver fail­ure in a med­i­cal sys­tem where the nurses have to pay for their own clean gloves and med­i­cal sup­plies. A lan­guage bar­rier makes nav­i­gat­ing through the sys­tem all the more fraught for Em­i­lie and her sis­ter V, and that’s be­fore Em­i­lie starts to un­pick her com­pli­cated emo­tions around her fa­ther; the sort of man who would drag a five-year-old out of bed and make her re­cite the al­pha­bet back­wards in a room full of drunken strangers, just so he could win a bet.

“The per­son who loves the ad­dict ex­hausts and re­news their love on a daily ba­sis,” Pine ob­serves.

Later, Pine re­counts her par­ents’ sep­a­ra­tion, which hap­pened when she was a young­ster.

In one par­tic­u­larly touch­ing mo­ment, Pine writes a post­card to her mother when on hol­i­days with her fa­ther. The ex­er­cise is less about telling her mother that she’s hav­ing a good time, more tele­graph­ing the date to which she will re­turn home, so her fa­ther won’t have to.

He even omits to write her mother’s full name on the post­card, as if he can’t fully bring him­self to do so. And in the years be­fore divorce is le­gal in Ire­land, the dis­so­lu­tion of their mar­riage ap­pears all the more com­pli­cated (though when divorce is le­gally granted in Ire­land, both omit to file for divorce).

Notes to Self’s sec­ond es­say (of six), ‘From the Baby Years’, is even more emo­tion­ally naked, de­tail­ing as it does Pine’s four-year odyssey of preg­nancy, in­fer­til­ity and mis­car­riage.

She had wanted very badly to be­come a par­ent, yet af­ter much heartache, there even­tu­ally came a point where she and her part­ner R had to rec­on­cile them­selves to not be­com­ing bi­o­log­i­cal par­ents.

In the mid­dle of it all, her sis­ter V gets preg­nant. There’s an im­pres­sively can­did mo­ment where Pine for­gets to con­grat­u­late her, still caught up in her own feel­ings around moth­er­hood.

Then V’s daugh­ter dies of an un­de­tected heart anom­aly on New Year’s Day, a cou­ple of weeks be­fore she is due to be born.

Pine is clearly writ­ing from a very raw and hon­est place, and she takes the emo­tional tem­per­a­ture of this time of her fam­ily’s life per­fectly.

In terms of sheer hu­man­ity and ten­der­ness, there’s barely a fic­tional pas­sage in the land that can touch it.

Else­where, in the es­say ‘Some­thing About Me’, Pine re­calls a teenage­hood spent in London.

Like many young girls be­fore her, she re­alised that do­ing away with break­fast (and then lunch) brought with it an el­e­ment of so­cial ca­chet among her peers. From there, she lost her vir­gin­ity at 13 and started re­belling, at­tend­ing three new schools in as many months. A cou­ple of years later, Pine and two friends run away from home in London, though she isn’t en­tirely sure why.

Against the back­drop of gig back­stage ar­eas, London night­clubs and the apart­ments of older men who ex­pect some­thing af­ter pay­ing for drinks and drugs all night, the young Pine falls ever fur­ther down the rab­bit hole.

Ev­ery so of­ten, there is an oblique ref­er­ence to divorce leg­is­la­tion, or the Eighth Amend­ment in Notes to Self. Yet in the main, Pine lets her di­rect ex­pe­ri­ence do much of the spade­work.

The fi­nal es­say of the col­lec­tion, ‘Speak­ing/Not Speak­ing’, breaks slightly with this tra­di­tion. It’s still told via Pine’s ex­pe­ri­ences as an aca­demic, but be­comes a more gen­eral take on the si­lenc­ing of women and the place of women in academia.

It’s a fine read, even if Pine’s grip on raw in­tro­spec­tion is some­what loos­ened.

Still, there’s a dis­tinct sense that Pine is at­tempt­ing a sort of cathar­sis on the page.

In an im­pres­sive sleight of hand, there isn’t a hint of self-pity in Notes to Self, even though blis­ter­ing con­fes­sion­al­ism and vul­ner­a­bil­ity runs through much of the book.

Ul­ti­mately, there are but a hand­ful of vi­gnettes here, yet in do­ing away with the self-cu­rat­ing and self-cen­sor­ing, Pine comes out the other end as a per­son the reader will truly feel they know.

And per­haps more im­por­tantly, like.

There isn’t a hint of self-pity in even though blis­ter­ing con­fes­sion­al­ism and vul­ner­a­bil­ity runs through much of the book

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