To Throw Away Un­opened: A Mem­oir

Viv Al­ber­tine

Foreword Reviews - - Reviews - CLAIRE FOSTER

Faber & Faber (MAY) Hard­cover $24.95 (320pp) 978-0-571-32621-1

Once a punk, al­ways a punk. Viv Al­ber­tine is a force. The leg­endary guitarist of post-punk cult band the Slits writes about ma­tu­rity, fem­i­nin­ity, and fac­ing the end of life with­out fear in her in­cred­i­ble new mem­oir To Throw Away Un­opened.

Al­ber­tine’s nar­ra­tive voice is im­me­di­ate, au­then­tic, and vivid, by turns salty and sen­si­tive. To Throw Away Un­opened is struc­tured like a se­ries of pho­to­graphs or a gallery of mem­o­ries. Each snap­shot cap­tures a mo­ment that re­veals deeper truths. Sit­ting on a bus, Al­ber­tine eaves­drops on two drug users, re­flect­ing, “They were my Ghosts of Christ­mas Past … spend­ing all day with a per­son she didn’t like, try­ing to score.” Any de­ci­sion, Al­ber­tine says, sends you down one path or an­other. Her sto­ries de­scribe her abid­ing role as a voice of the coun­ter­cul­ture in Bri­tain, is largely a mat­ter of chance. In the rock-and-roll mem­oir genre, her self-ef­fac­ing, hu­mor­ous tone is a wel­come balm.

Al­ber­tine ef­fort­lessly leaps from fem­i­nist the­ory to grief to so­cial com­men­tary. To Throw Away Un­opened, iron­i­cally, leaves noth­ing un­ex­am­ined. One par­tic­u­larly strong pas­sage de­scribes Al­ber­tine’s re­cur­ring dreams about her hair: un­ruly hair on her legs, her head, her chin, grow­ing un­con­trol­lably. The de­scrip­tions of the dif­fer­ent spa­ces Al­ber­tine in­hab­its, from the pub­lic bus to the house she grew up in to her mother’s liv­ing room, are ex­cel­lent, and the mem­oir’s char­ac­ters are sharply, but kindly, drawn.

Through­out, Al­ber­tine’s mem­oir con­trasts so­cial ex­pec­ta­tions for women in the 1960s with to­day’s stan­dards and uses quo­ta­tions from other writ­ers to il­lus­trate her points. In some ways, we are more free, Al­ber­tine says. In oth­ers? We’ve sim­ply cho­sen a dif­fer­ent form of sub­ju­ga­tion.

From her wild punk days to her wilder life as an older woman, Al­ber­tine’s won­der­ful mem­oir is il­lu­mi­nat­ing and brave. For all its swag­ger, To Throw Away Un­opened has a sweet cen­ter and a per­spec­tive that makes it a real stand­out.

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