You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘Misery Lit’ tag.

The others were the first to notice what Alice and Mattia would understand only many years later. They walked into the room holding hands. They weren’t smiling and they were looking in opposite directions, but it was as if their bodies flowed uninterruptedly into one another, through their arms and their touching fingers.

Last week I had the pleasure of seeing the documentary film Babies. Featuring four families across the world raising their newborn children from birth to their first steps, it celebrates the creation of life itself. It is a beautiful, sweet film and left me feeling so happy afterwards.

The Solitude of Prime Numbers…not so much.

The book opens with contrasting accounts of the childhood experiences of its two main characters, Alice and Mattia. In 1983 Alice fell from a ski-lift at a resort and seriously injured her leg. Left alone in the snow, her clothes befouled by a release of her bowels, the young girl retreated into herself as she waited to be rescued. Afterwards she becomes obsessed with controlling her eating, developing anorexia. In 1984 Mattia abandoned his disabled twin sister Michela in a public park to avoid embarrassment at a schoolfriend’s birthday party. When he returned to the spot, she had vanished. Traumatised by his part in her disappearance, Mattia begins a life-long habit of self-mutilation.

School is just a series of endless humiliating encounters for them both. Alice is picked on by a gang of girls she is desperate to fit in with. Mattia unwittingly encourages another boy into becoming infatuated with him, when he openly slicing his hand in a biology class. The tragically enraptured Dennis assumes this is a product of homosexual self-loathing. As both children grow into adolescence they eventually become friends, their intimacy founded on a mutual co-dependency and sense of alienation. They also both become obsessed with different disciplines. Mattia is a gifted mathematician, the cold austerity of numbers suiting his internalised view of the world. Alice embraces photography as a means of capturing and controlling what she sees, just as she does her food.

Paolo Giordano describes the painful process of growing up that can faced by many young people. Where I part company from him is the excessive misery described here. Alice and Mattia grow into adulthood burdened by the same psychological damage that afflicted them as children. In fact adulthood here is shown to be the aftermath of the cruel vicissitudes of childhood.

After finishing this book I was left in a depressive funk for most of the afternoon. Mainly it was due to the hopelessness of these two lost souls. Where I begin to suspect this to be a work of continental misery lit, is in the faint prospect in Mattia being reunited with his missing twin in the latter half of the book. This prospect is dangled in front of the reader by Giordano and then pulled away abruptly.

Do I want to spend a day in the company of two people with no hope, no chance and forever traumatised by two singularly tragic events? No not particularly.

Intelligently written, but dark and quite depressing.

 

Advertisements

She tried to call Conor once she left the store, but all she got was a cheery robot directing her to leave a message: he hadn’t even bothered to put his own voice into the system. She told him that he should wake up, she was on her way home right now, and understood what a pointless message it was as soon as she finished speaking. Her voice seemed to echo back at her and she imagined some vast warehouse where they stored all such unwanted messages, a black space filled with the ceaseless murmur of unheeded questions and complaints and pleas.

I have had the beginnings of an idea for a yarn tickling the back of my mind for days now. It is frustrating me because I feel this flush of resentment that so much of my time is occupied by reading and writing for this blog instead of working on my own ideas – until of course the realization hits that this blog is the best thing that ever happened to me in terms of sticking to a writing routine. I am exposing myself to authors I never would have read before, becoming inspired by the constant immersion in stories that rest outside my comfort zone of reading material.

I have to remind myself just how lucky I am.

Security is one of those modern novels that introduces a number of different protagonists to the reader and then interweaves their stories, building to an eventual climax where they all cross paths.  Amidon includes a number of scenes in a creative writing class, where the students debate the value of ‘truth’, in a memoir. I was reminded of Todd Solondz‘s Storytelling which also features a creative writing class where truth is an early fatality in the quest for shock value, the real meat and potatoes of non-fiction confessionals.

Edward Inman is a solid, well-intentioned family man who runs a security company in the progressive college town of Stoneleigh. Suffering from recurring bouts of sleep deprivation he finds himself driving late at night instead of sleeping in his own home. His relationship with his wife Meg has cooled and his work excuses him from the marriage bed. Early one morning he passes the son of a former flame, staggering drunkenly home. He gives the boy a lift to his home and upon meeting Connor’s mother Katherine wonders whether his calm and ordered life took a wrong turn.

Katherine herself is at her wits end with her increasingly silent and feckless dropout son. Connor never tells her where he goes at night, sleeps off his drunk during the day and becomes aggressive when she asks him to find work. She is tired of being a mother to a young man who treats her with so little respect. Katherine remembers how she used to have passion and dreams before her spirit was crushed.

Angela is a college student secretly having an affair with her writing instructor Stuart. She shares the class with Mary Steckl, daughter of the town drunk who was accused by Meg Inman of indecent exposure. What began as a police complaint led to Meg’s growing political career, inspired by the charges against Steckl being dropped. Mary has had to live with the reputation of her father ever since. She is vulnerable and isolated, with only Angela feeling the smallest measure of sympathy for her in the classroom pecking order.

When a young woman is assaulted, the perception of Stoneleigh as a safe town is finally shattered. Accusations are levelled and paranoia runs rampant. The debate started by Mary Steckl in the writing class is shown to be a microcosm for the concerns of the town at large – discover the truth, or invent a lie salacious enough to entertain the mob.

Stephen Amidon‘s story has a light Ballardian touch, showing how the close-knit lives of this small community exist in isolation from one another courtesy of technology. The structure of the family unit itself is at stake, with the ambiguous climax symbolically representing the threat posed to it. Thematically the book addresses the compulsive need in modern society to protect families from the outside world, even at the expense of any real engagement with others.

Amidon perfectly captures the uses of fear in political discourse, as well as the fragility of the family structure itself. The story is gripping with the competing narrative strands woven together convincingly.


When I first heard there was a book deal on offer, I was pretty reluctant about it. I’ve learnt a lot about the value of privacy. But some arse was putting adverts in the local Swindon paper asking for stories about me and my family. He was writing a book about a person he’d never met. It pissed me off. Even though it’s my story to tell, my thoughts, my feelings, I felt quite odd about doing it. But actually it’s been an amazing experience.

Billie Piper’s life since becoming an English pop star at the age of fifteen has been lived in tabloid headlines. In the minds of the British public, there is a very defined idea of who she is. As the quote above shows, Piper is well able to speak for herself and took the opportunity to set the record straight. She’s been a heavily marketed teeny bopper; a makeshift rival to the chart dominance of Britney Spears; a hate figure for her relationship with a male pop star; a teenage wife and the onscreen companion to a time-travelling alien. Plenty of material for a biography, despite the subject at the time of writing not having left her twenties yet.

The structure of Piper’s biography is broken up by a odd timeline, opening with her swift rise in the pop charts and then telling the story of her life with her family before fame came calling. A devoted fan of Madonna from a young age, Billie hoped to imitate the American icon. Instead she found herself facing mounting debt at a young age, still at fifteen years lacking a proper parent in her life, with her management team a poor substitute. It is a bizarre world of extremes. On the one hand she is meeting with celebrities and getting sex tips from her backing dancers when living the pop star life. Then she returns to Swindon to cook fish fingers for her younger siblings and getting hits off a bucket bong with mates on the weekend. Her growing romance with Ritchie Neville from 5ive transforms the pop princess into a hate figure for the teen fan base of her celebrity boyfriend. Eventually she found herself growing further and further apart from her family and finding no stable emotional ties to anyone else in her new life. As a result she finds herself slipping more and more into anorexic behavior, euphemistically referred to by people in the entertainment industry as ‘old faithful’. With failing record sales, a well-documented reliance on laxatives and a suicide attempt while promoting her music in America, the teen star was swiftly approaching a breakdown.

Billie credits her meeting with Chris Evans for her recovery. A hugely successful British television and radio personality, the two soon married shortly after meeting. Evans caught her eye by delivering a Ferrari race-car to her doorstep. The romance that followed was not so much a whirlwind, but a retreat from the entertainment industry and glitz of London. The couple relocate their life to a cottage in the English countryside and try to find themselves. The media responds by painting Evans as a cradle-snatching pervert and bemoan the end of Billie’s music career. Ironically for her, this is the happiest period of her life to date and in leaving her pop star past behind, she reinvents herself as an actress. A return to a more controlled fame and the role of the Doctor’s companion is just on the horizon.

While this is a very honest piece of writing, the telling of it feels telegraphed throughout. In a break with tradition, Billie thanks her ghost on the acknowledgements page at the end of the book. As such there are occasional slips during the book. There is a regrettable reference to a quote from the Sopranos – with neither Billie nor her ghost writer seemingly aware the line is a parody of Al Pacino’s famous outburst in The Godfather Part III. There is little naming and shaming in the book and music promoters, studio crew and production assistants on Who are fulsomely praised. Throughout Billie pitches herself as an ordinary woman who just happens to be living an extraordinary life.

I was never a fan of Misery Lit and so found her descriptions of lonely hotel rooms and anorexia quite depressing. Nevertheless this is an intimate and winning account of a life trapped by fame.

Join me at The Momus Report

Vote For Me!

Share this blog

Bookmark and Share