26 June, 2013

Review: She Left Me The Gun by Emma Brockes

I want you to read this book. It's going to win a basket of awards. It's the memoir of the year, for certain. I don't care who writes a memoir this year, Brockes has the top spot sewn up. There are some second half issues and the author occasionally loses her way but it doesn't matter. Because this book is everything. She Left Me The Gun is about the complexity of the mother / daughter relationship. It's about clashes of culture and class. It's about the inability to have cross generational understanding until one of the parties has gone. The questions come too late, the understanding of what we didn't know part of the hole left in the leaving.

Brockes and her mother speak different languages. They come from different countries, homes, classes and times. The thing that holds them together is the parent child bond, something Brockes mother has had to create from whole cloth. I found She Left Me The Gun compelling because Brockes is very clear eyed about her own reactions. She sees where she resisted when her mother would allude to her life. She sees the involuntary judgements she makes on her distant family as she meets them. Brockes is aware that she has not lived the experiences they have, that she is unknowingly shaped by them but apart from them.  There is a passage midway through the book between Brockes and a friend that I think (by it's inclusion) sums her self awareness up.

"Fascists under our bonnet," I say to Pooly. 
"Yeah," she says. "Be grateful you're not the black one."
By the time the third biker pulls over we are so numb to the situation that when he takes his helmet off and turns out to be a woman, with long blonde hair and a weather beaten face, the relief hardly registers. - Emma Brockes

Brockes gets many of the small details right. She understands that she cannot, on a fundamental level, understand. The rules of her world don't apply to those of her mother or her mother's siblings. In the same way that she was a British daughter of a South African woman so too is she the protected child of an unprotected parent. Some gulfs of experience cannot be filled, they can only be bridged. Ultimately, Brockes is writing a letter of love and respect to her mother and in so doing she offers a unique insight to what it is like to be successfully raised by an abuse survivor. Too many memoirs focus solely on  unbroken cycles while the world itself offers far more possibility. 

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