She Left Me the Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me by Emma Brockes


Our February non-fiction choice is about a woman on a mission to forget who she used to be. It is also about her daughter's attempt to uncover that secret.

She Left Me The Gun is a memoir that is so beautifully told and so unsentimental that it can handle even the most harrowing of subjects with humour and compassion. Emma Brockes grew up knowing that her mother, Paula, would never discuss her past. The facts were bare: Paula was raised by her father and stepmother in South Africa, who then had a further seven children. As soon as she could, Paula left the country, married an Englishman (Emma's father), in the Sixties and moved to a quiet Buckinghamshire village. When Paula died, Emma slowly began to uncover a terrible history that had affected her entire extended family.

Paula's father turns out to be a serial abuser of his children whose evil behavior is never exposed, even when Paula tries to take him to court. The case fails when he cross-examines his own children and pulls them apart. Emma tracks down surviving relatives who are initially reluctant to talk, but eventually provide her with the missing pieces of this awful past. 

It is hard to explain how witty and refreshing this story can be, given its grim content, yet Brockes has an extraordinary lightness of touch that prevents the book from ever becoming too grim. 

It is simply an astonishing feat of writing. One of the most compelling memoirs you'll ever read – a classic to join Lorna Sage's Bad Blood and Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking.


This page is sponsored by Faber & Faber

Watch this mini documentary-style interview with Emma, featuring fascinating archive photos.


'A beautiful, wise book ... She Left Me the Gun deserves to become a classic.' Zoe Heller

'This soul-searching tale is a shocking trail of murder, violence, incest and betrayal ... Emma Brockes writes with dry humour and a refreshing lack of sentiment.' Viv Watts, Daily Express

'An amazing and harrowing story. In Emma Brockes's consummate, Joan Didionesque prose, it becomes a surpassingly rich meditation on family, endurance, secrecy, trauma, guilt, strength and love ... deeply impressive, deeply painful, deeply true.' Kevin Power, Sunday Business Post

'Extraordinary ... a riveting, authentic tale elegantly told.' Viv Groskop, Sunday Telegraph


About the author

emma_brockesEmma Brockes writes for the Guardian Weekend magazine and contributes to the New York Times, Vogue, Harper's Bazaar and Elle. She is the winner of two British Press Awards (Young Journalist of the Year and Feature Writer Of the Year) and whilst at Oxford she won the Philip Geddes Memorial Prize for Journalism. She is the author of one previous book - What Would Barbra Do?, about her love of musicals. She lives in New York.

Emma's website is a treasure trove of her greatest hits interviews for the Guardian, as well as information on both her books. Catch up on her most recent journalism or delve into her archive for brilliant interviews with Margaret Atwood, Liza Minnelli and David Hasselhoff.



Faber & Faber have 50 copies of She Left Me the Gun to give to Mumsnetters - to claim yours please fill in your details below. We'll post on the thread when all the copies have gone. If you're not lucky enough to bag one of the free books, you can always get your paperback or kindle version

If you get a free copy, we do expect you to come and and tell us what you think. So please discuss the book throughout the month and look forward to hearing your thoughts.

This giveaway is now closed.




Last updated: about 3 years ago