Shortlisted for the Wellcome Book Prize, ‘Mayhem’ is Sigrid Rausing’s family memoir about drug addiction. Her younger brother and heir to the Tetra Pak fortune, Hans Kristian, met American businesswoman, Eva Kemeny, when they were in rehab together in the late 1980s. They later married and became well-known philanthropists based in London. However, they relapsed and in 2007, Sigrid was granted custody of Hans and Eva’s four children. In July 2012, Hans was stopped by the police after driving erratically through London and was found with drugs in his possession. When the police searched his Belgravia mansion, they discovered Eva’s remains hidden under a mattress. She had been dead for approximately two months.
‘Mayhem’ is the most harrowing account of addiction I have come across since Asif Kapadia’s 2015 documentary film about the singer, Amy Winehouse, who died in 2011. It is acknowledged that the Rausings’ influence and wealth as one of the world’s richest families are a significant part of what makes their story so memorable and complex and ‘Mayhem’ is Sigrid’s attempt to reclaim the story which has been the subject of so many lurid tabloid headlines in recent years.
Rausing writes thoughtfully about the nature of addiction and its many contradictions. “Addiction is nearly always situated in that borderland between criminality and disease; between sincerity and insincerity; between honesty and lies; between pleasure and pain” (pp. 121-2). She never attempts to tell Hans’ version of events beyond the known facts of what happened and is acutely aware of the controversy surrounding her decision to publish the book and how others might react to it, stating in the introduction: “I write, knowing that writing at all may be seen as a betrayal of family; a shaming exploitative act. Anyone reading this who thinks so, please know that I thought of it before you.” On the other hand, it has to be said that by anticipating criticism from every possible angle, she comes across as painfully self-aware at times. She acknowledges her tendency to procrastinate around the story with meditative forays into academic psychoanalysis and her own theories about the genetic predisposition of addiction – while these parts may have been therapeutic for her to write, some will be of less interest to the reader.
Much of Rausing’s account is vague and fragmented partly because Hans and Eva’s children can’t be identified for legal reasons. As well as attempting to make sense of how and why addiction took hold of Hans and Eva in the way that it did, Rausing is clearly still processing her own experiences as a close family member at the centre of events. Yet even though ‘Mayhem’ is far from a “tell all” memoir, it is remarkably candid in other ways, almost to the point where it felt intrusive to be reading it.