I have read two non-fiction books recently which both draw on regular newspaper columns penned by their authors. In April 2010, at the age of 52, journalist Melanie Reid broke her neck and fractured her back after falling from a horse, spending nearly a year in a high-dependency spinal unit. She is now a tetraplegic, permanently paralysed from the top of her chest downwards and will spend the rest of her life in a wheelchair. She has documented her experience of adult-acquired disability in her ‘Spinal Column’ in the Times for several years now. Her memoir ‘The World I Fell Out Of’ draws on those articles but also provides a fuller account of how her life changed following the accident.
I try not to describe memoirs as “honest” in my reviews, but it really has to be said that Reid’s candour about the aftermath of her accident is unflinching, particularly the aspects of care, rehabilitation and mental outlook that are rarely discussed, from the intimate indignities of being doubly incontinent, to coming to terms psychologically with the randomness and suddenness of what happened, to being permanently relegated to seat-level in a wheelchair – Reid is 6 feet tall and her height had always played a big part in her self-confidence. She had a second fall from a horse less than two years later, breaking her hip during a supervised Riding for the Disabled session, an episode she didn’t discuss in detail in her columns at the time. And yet, despite the life-changing setbacks and challenges of Reid’s situation, ‘The World I Fell Out Of’ is a darkly funny book, particularly when she describes the other patients and NHS staff in hospital. Many thanks to 4th Estate for sending me a review copy of ‘The World I Fell Out Of’ via NetGalley.
Singer-songwriter Tracey Thorn is a regular columnist for the New Statesman and her latest book ‘Another Planet’ draws on material from her articles and explores her teenage years growing up in Brookmans Park in Hertfordshire as well as the concept of suburbia more generally. The book opens with a description of a train journey from north London to Hertfordshire as Thorn returns to the garden city where she grew up more than three decades after she left. She mines her teenage diaries from 1976 to 1981 (when she was aged 13 to 18) and notes that she tended to describe what was absent in her life rather than what was actually happening and that her memories often differ drastically from what she chose to record at the time.
Thorn writes particularly well about conformity, claustrophobia, teenage restlessness and the reasons why her parents chose to settle at Brookmans Park and how suburban settings are rarely thought of as creative environments for artists in contrast with urban chaos or isolated countryside. Much like Thorn’s previous two books about her singing career, ‘Another Planet’ is a typically understated and reflective memoir with astute observations of how nostalgia affects memory and how clichés compare to reality.