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March Book of the Month

Memoir has come to mean miserable, thanks to supermarket shelves groaning with tortured childhoods and various addictions. But this lot, although they deal with some hard subjects, are never miserable. Nor are they self-pitying, self-righteous or self-obsessed. In each memoir, the writer has tried to make sense of an extraordinary experience, or way of seeing the world. The fact that the stories are true brings an intimacy and emotion to their writing, and a remarkable insight. Two of my all time favourite books (Bad Blood and Diving Bell and the Butterfly) are included here; both of them read more like fiction than non-fiction, such is the talent and imagination of the authors.


Escape - Carolyn Jessop
I swore never to complain about my husband again, once I’d read this book. Carolyn Jessop was born into the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, which meant at 18 she was forced to marry a stranger 32 years older than herself, bear him 8 children and share him with 6 other wives. And she was relatively lucky: one cult member was 18 when she was forced to marry a man of 88. Eventually Carolyn managed to escape with all her children, before the preaching about apolcalypse and death became a reality. A rare insight into this terrifying, closed society and one very brave lady (the FBI Most Wanted leader of the cult, Warren Jeffs, was subsequently arrested after she gave evidence). Buy it here

The Year of Magical Thinking - Joan Didion
Much praised by critics and winner of the Pulitzer Prize, this is an exploration of love and grief. Joan Didion, one of America’s most celebrated writers, has tried to make sense of the coma-inducing illness of her daughter and the death of her husband, both of which occurred within a few weeks. Didion’s writing is honest, articulate, observant – but she struggles to explain the nature of grief which she describes as ‘unknowable’. Harrowing material but an interesting, imaginative approach to the enormous questions. (A stage adaptation starring Vanessa Redgrave is at the National Theatre from April, if anyone fancies seeing it live). Buy it here


The Diving Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby
The film is out, so you probably all know the story. But for those who haven’t caught up with this one, this is the exceptional diary of Jean-Dominique Bauby, editor of French Elle, who was struck down one normal day by a stroke that left his mind intact but his body completely paralysed. The only part of the body he could move was his eyelids. So he created a system of winking that, with the help of an assistant, enabled him to put together this beautifully written, perfectly constructed tale of how it feels to be locked inside your own body. That he wrote it at all is astonishing. The fact that it is so good, so imaginatively and creatively done, is just incredible. One of my all-time remarkable books and one I’ve  pressed onto friends and strangers alike. Buy it here

Bad Blood - Lorna Sage
Another book that sits firmly in my Greatest Hits list. Lorna Sage unwraps her family history through three generations, weaving together characters and anecdotes into a compelling drama. The writing is hugely observant, original, funny, poignant - there is an atmosphere of beautiful melancholy in the Welsh village where the book is set, and the structure of the book draws out the secret emotions and frustrations that bubble underneath so many families. It is Sage's style that makes this book so magical - she has a unique, witty and intriguing voice that makes you long for the book to continue past the end (Sage died not long after this book was published). Buy it here



Whose story would you like to discover? Vote here for your favourite memoir to be March Book of the Month...

Last updated: over 3 years ago