Book Review.

lyndas-memoir-collectionI’ve been dipping in and out of Down Memory Lane: A Collection of Memoirs, this week.  These writings from the heart of Ireland reveal the power of writing about the self.  In the process of entertaining us, sometimes they trigger a comparison to, a taste, a smell, an activity and  I’m reminded how much has changed in the course of my life.

Or they record something fascinatingly specific about an experience. ‘I was born in Adutiskis, on the border with Belarus, where my grandparents lived,’ begins Dalia Smelstoriute, in a piece that draws together a description of an All Souls Day commemoration, a tantalisingly brief account of her grandmother’s life, and a summary of thoughts about the importance of traditions.

Other people’s families, other lives, these are often what we look for in our reading. A.L Hayes writes: ‘My Dad was a great man for mixing up left over paints to create wieird and wonderful colours.  At one stage our hall door was a strange mixture of pale pink and scuttery green.’

Here are character portraits embedded in experiences.  An incident in the playground; buying a first record; a first car; taking a holiday abroad; a journey…describing a first love. They’re fragments from a life, and yet they’re rounded moments that sit beautifully on the page.

Memoirs, it seems to me, are important.  They bring social history to life.  ‘Woolworths was at one time the biggest shop in Mullingar’ writes Caroline Connolly. ‘It had black shiny pillars outside the front door and there were square pillars inside that had long mirrors on each side.  As you passed, you could see yourself.’

This collection has come from a series of classes run in Ballinacree, Ireland, by Lynda Kirby It’s been funded by sponsors and all profits go to The Patient Comfort Fund of Oldcastle Alzheimer’s Group.  Memoirs to fund memory loss, isn’t that a nice concept?

Well done, Lynda, and good luck with the next project.

 

Readers, narrators and authors.

That I’m reading a memoir this week is either a happy accident  or serendipity, depending on how you view the world. Friday morning, as I was heading for an appointment that was guaranteed to include a waiting room, I grabbed a book off my to-be-read shelf.

After three months of focused studying, I was looking forward to some simple pleasure-reading.  My course paperwork was finished, and ready to post, the new classes would not be starting until mid-April. The long Easter weekend could be given over to indulgence.

I don’t know how I missed knowing that Fever Pitch wasn’t a novel.  If I had, it would have been shelved with the other memoirs that I’ve been gathering as background for the Writing Family Histories course that is next on my list of classes to prepare, and perhaps I’d be writing this post next week.

fever pitchInstead, I was several pages in before my suspicions were roused.  That’s the thing with first person narration of course, when it’s done well, it should convince us that the character and their world is as real as we are, even when we know it’s a fiction.  The thing that tends to give memoir away is usually shaping.  It can be tricky to translate the random, scoincidental nature of life as most of us experience it, into a convincing novelistic form.

Nick Hornby has shaped his life around an obsession with football in such an entertaining way that I’m hooked.  I still couldn’t answer a pub quiz sport question, but he has helped me understand something about the need so many people have to cheer on a bunch of players chasing a ball around a cold, muddy field.  Before this, my most entertaining connection to the game was thanks to Sarah’s Knitted Footballer blog, which demonstrates another approach to expressing passionate interest in a sport.