I don’t usually read memoirs. I have little interest in gossip or self-serving whining.
My opinion of memoirs tends to be this: that memoirs of celebrities usually try to “set the record straight”, to correct some perception that exists or to merely “drop names”, bringing a certain celebrity cache to the author by acquaintance. Memoirs of an “average” person, tend to focus on some sort of cause, aiming to shed light on something that the reader doesn’t know from her own experience, but tend to be of little interest unless the reader already has some stake in the topic: a specific hobby, a disease state, a certain political bent. For these reasons, I tend to avoid most memoirs. On a few occasions I have read some popular memoirs when people kept recommending them to me. Think Julie and Julia, or Eat, Pray, Love. I disliked them both.
So, I don’t know what possessed me, while at the library last week, to pick up a copy of Emma Forrest’s Your Voice in My Head. Even the blurb on the front, by Elizabeth Gilbert, which would have normally caused me to replace a book on the shelf as quickly as if it were radioactive waste, didn’t dissuade me: “A blistering, transfixing story of obsession, heartbreak, and slow, stubborn healing”.
And you know what? I actually liked this book. I couldn’t wait to get back to it and read it quickly in a manner of a few days, days when I had limited time to read. Forrest, who has been a journalist, published three novels, and written screenplays, writes well. Her memoir is her story of living with years of depression, being both bulimic and a “cutter”, and so scarily bi-polar that it is hard to imagine what amount of energy would be needed to be her friend. But, more than simply explaining the horrors of depression or mania, of how she made wrong choices in life and love, how she felt when she cut herself, it is a love letter, not to herself, not to her lost loves, but to her psychiatrist, named simply Dr. R in the book, who guided Forrest through several years on her road to stability, and who died suddenly, leaving his patients both shocked and, in Forrest’s case, rudderless. It is Dr. R’s voice that she carries with her in her head. It is Dr. R who is still “treating” Forrest now.
Forrest could have written a much different book. She could have named names — her last debilitating love affair in the book only identifies her lover as GH — Gypsy Husband. She may not have named him for legal reasons — a quick google will tell you which handsome, bad boy, talented Irish actor she dated for over a year, the year that Dr. R died, a pivotal year in the book — but it doesn’t really matter. The book is not about GH, or any of the other people she was involved with, but is about Forrest’s journey, told with such apparent honesty, with such lyricism, with devastating insight that it doesn’t matter that this isn’t a gossip, tell-all Hollywood memoir, or about specifically bulimia, bipolar manic depression, or self-mutiliation. In the end, it doesn’t even matter that it is specifically about Forrest or Dr. R. The book doesn’t end with Forrest magically being healed. GH doesn’t come back to her. The reader isn’t told much about her new, and presumably healthy, relationship. This has a different kind of happy ending, one in which Forrest realizes the gift Dr. R gave her, and how what she learned will help her through her life even though she will never be “cured”.
I liked Forrest’s writing style enough that I will consider reading one of her novels.