You’ll already know that my reading these days is mainly drawn from the lighter end of the spectrum, mostly romance and women’s fiction – and you might just have noticed too that I rarely read non-fiction, and certainly not a memoir. Louise Beech’s memoir, Daffodils, is currently only available as an audiobook – and I do remember saying that I wouldn’t be writing reviews of books I’d listened to rather than read, but would include them in a quarterly update to share my experience (and yes, I do need to write one of those… coming in a week or so).
But I always write and share my reviews of Louise’s wonderful novels – you might have caught the one I wrote yesterday for her latest, Nothing Else (you’ll find it here) – and it felt quite wrong not to react in some way to having listened to this acutely personal memoir. The very notion of writing a review made me distinctly uncomfortable – but it felt equally wrong not to say something about my listening experience, and how it made me feel.
Let me share the “blurb”…
Louise has revealed the harrowing story in which she reflects on her life and the bridge incident that shook her family to the core.
Content warning: suicide.
2019. Dawn. The River Humber. A misty February walk. Surprise early daffodils. A picture taken. Then forgotten. Because five hours later, my world shattered.
My mother jumped off the Humber Bridge. Had those yellow flowers not delayed me, I might have been there. Could I have stopped her?
In the aftermath of this violent act, I turned to my writing, to my beloved siblings, to our only uncle. I was forced to look at events that led to this suicide attempt. At relationships wrecked by alcoholism. At chronic depression. At our care records. At my childhood. At my mother. At buried trauma never fully explored before. At myself….
When I much later found the picture of those surprise daffodils, I knew it was time to write about that day. I began typing the story that inspired so many of my fictional characters, that shaped the testing things they endured.
My own story.
During the successive lockdowns, many of those of us without children to home school or not working from home spent our time perfecting our recipes for banana bread, decluttering our homes, or investigating the full range of our Netflix subscriptions. Louise Beech wrote two novels (one as yet unpublished) – and, although she was still dealing with the difficult aftermath of her mother’s suicide attempt, she also turned it into an opportunity to set out her personal story, exploring her memories of her difficult childhood and all the events that led up to her mother’s dramatic act, filling the gaps in her memory with extracts from her care records and the recollections and anecdotes of her close family (her sisters, her brother, and their mother’s brother Edwin).
You’ll notice that this book (quite rightly) has a “suicide” content warning – but there were other elements of this brave and beautifully written account that had a much deeper impact. The book explores the extraordinary bond she developed with her siblings, recording a catalogue of appalling neglect, focusing on key moments, reflecting on the reasons why they happened and the legacy that they left her with. Their mother – an alcoholic and depressive, but perhaps with more complex psychological issues that the book explores – felt that she deserved a life of her own, but the impact of that on her confused young family frequently moved me to tears and made me desperately grateful for my own stable and loving family upbringing. There is love here too though – Louise becomes, by default, the mother figure to the rest of her family, and the warmth of their bond is what lifts the darkness through the most difficult experiences.
You might expect this book to be unremittingly sad and emotional – but, perhaps surprisingly, it most certainly isn’t. It’s written in a conversational style, directly addressing the reader – and I really must say that Lesley Harcourt captures the author’s unique and distinctive voice quite perfectly – and at times, particularly as the family negotiate all the hurdles towards sorting out their mother’s future care, the humour is simply wonderful (I particularly loved the exchanges in the WhatsApp group). And another thing I really enjoyed was being able to see the sources of inspiration behind the novels I’ve loved – and the way her passion for writing sustained and lifted her through the most difficult times.
Writing this book – and delving into the memories that shaped it – was an extraordinarily brave act. It’s raw, emotional, and searingly honest – her life behind the smile laid bare, as the family moved towards making the most difficult of decisions about their future. And it’s very clear that this was an account that she felt she really needed to write – although it’s an intensely personal story, she really wanted it to prompt conversations and allow others to similarly explore their experiences and reach the same level of understanding. And she should be inordinately proud of what she’s achieved – a story of survival, of immense courage and resilience, both moving and uplifting, and filled with hope for the future.