My three memoir companion pieces are Viv Albertine’s Clothes, Music, Boys, Laura Sage’s Bad Blood and Maggie O’Farrell’s I am, I am, I am.
O’Farrell’s memoir is subtitled ‘seventeen brushes with death’ and in capturing her life through these numerous incidents, from muggings in Chile to her daughter’s life threatening allergies ( I was particularly moved by her essay on childbirth) she highlights the fragility of life, in particularly, a woman’s life.
My lovely friend Fran suggested Viv Albertine’s memoir for a book group. I approached Clothes, Music, Boys with caution as I didn’t know Albertine as The Slits‘ guitarist. In fact, I didn’t know The Slits. The book was a revelation and easily the best book I read that year. Albertine is fierce and forthright, revealing both the harrowing and humiliating. Not just from her early life in NW London and the violence she attracted in the British Punk scene, but also in her relationship with Mick Jones, the agonising failure of her marriage, her multiple IVF attempts and, where she is most caustic, her acting relationship with Liam Gillick. But strangely it is not a bleak book – her steering honesty jolts and awakens the reader. Plus, there is joy in her rediscovery of her musical voice.
This book may have started a mini publishing trend (Tracy Thorn’s Bedsit Disco Queen and Brix Smith’s The Rise, The Fall and The Rise were two others I read at the time) but Clothes, Music, Boys is in a league of its own.
And while this memoir is a complete pleasure in isolation, it can also take you on a culture trail, from The Slits to The Vermillion Border and on to Joanna Hogg’s film Exhibition.
Finally, Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood, which I read it over 15 years ago but stays with me.
I’ve heard Bad Blood recommended twice on A Good Read so I can vouch that it’s definitely a book that divides opinion. Sage is dark and judgemental. She tells the story of how she grew up with her estranged grandparents in their filthy vicarage, while her god-less philandering grandfather recorded his sexual conquests, including one of Sage’s teenage friends. Sage herself, pregnant as a teenager, worked hard to escape rural life and moves away to university. Yes, Sage is dark and judgemental, but this is an exquisitely written autobiography.
A few other great memoirs
Pulitzer Prize winning Personal History by Katherine Graham.
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Good by Jeanette Winterson.
My Life in France by Julia Child
I remember nothing and other reflections by Nora Ephron
Hons & Rebels by Jessica Mitford
Love Nina – dispatches from teenage life by Nina Stibbe
Once We We’re Sister by Shiela Koehler
But You Did Not Come Back by Marceline Loridan-Ivens
Wishful Drinking by Carrie Fisher
Find out more about Viv Albertine and women in punk
Women in Punk on the BBC’s The Reunion
Peter Bradshaw’s 5 star review of Joanna Hogg’s Exhibition in The Guardian.
Alexis Petridis’ interview with Viv Albertine on the publication of Clothes, Music, Boys in The Guardian.