Diving into Glass: A Memoir…
About the Book:
Caro Llewellyn was living her dream life in her adopted home of New York, directing an international literary festival. Then one day, running in Central Park, she lost all sensation in her legs. Two days later she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.
Caro was no stranger to tragedy. Her father Richard contracted polio at the age of twenty and spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair. Dignified, undaunted and ingenious, he was determined to make every day count, not least seducing his nurse while still confined to an iron lung, then marrying her.
But when Caro was herself blindsided by illness, cut loose from everything she depended on, she couldn’t summon any of the grace and courage she’d witnessed growing up. She was furious, toxic, humiliated. Only by looking back at her father’s extraordinary example was she able to rediscover her own grit and find a way forward, rebuilding her life shard by shard.
I don’t like musicals. All of the singing just seems to get in the way of the story, and while there have been couple of exceptions to my dislike (Mary Poppins, Mamma Mia, Into the Woods), generally speaking, if someone suggests we go and see a musical, either live or at the movies, I find myself very busy on that day. For me, memoirs are the literary equivalent of a musical: so much promise, but all of the singing just ends up getting in the way. Also, I don’t think it’s an accident that the word memoir begins with ‘me’.
Now, I don’t read many memoirs, just like I don’t watch many musicals, but from time to time one will pique my interest. I actually requested Diving into Glass from the publisher for review because the topic of the memoir, a woman dealing with a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, was on my radar of interest. And it starts well, the prologue drew me in and held my attention, for Caro Llewellyn has a fantastic turn of phrase. Yet, from chapter one through to chapter 37 (page 265 of a 315 page book) it’s all distracting singing: everything about her parents, her childhood, her schooling, failed relationships, being a single mother, career choices – nothing about her MS journey. Some of this was interesting, but on the whole, I honestly didn’t care. I chose this book because I wanted to read about a woman dealing with a diagnosis of MS. 57 pages of this book covered her MS, but everything in the middle was pretty much what I don’t like about memoirs: the rehashing of everything in a person’s life up until that point, with an over-blown focus on an author’s parents and the miniature of their childhood. Those 57 pages were excellent, which makes my disappointment in the rest of the book more profound. Memoirs are tricky beasts, particularly once a person’s childhood factors into the book. Memories are flimsy at best, but I’m not inclined to trust vivid recounts of things that happened when a person was five. I just can’t credit it. But I will completely take responsibility for my dislike: this is a memoir, and as a result, it was always likely to be more miss than hit for me.
Fans of memoirs will think this is an incredible book; in many ways it is. Caro Llewellyn certainly writes well, and for the most part, there is a lack of the type of self-indulgence ever present in memoirs. She accepts responsibility for her own actions, she doesn’t demonise her parents, nor does she wallow – all factors I appreciated. I just really wish there had been more of her MS journey through to the present day and less of everything else. I need to stay away from this form of writing and stick to reading biographies and fiction.
Thanks is extended to Penguin Random House Australia for providing me with a copy of Diving into Glass for review.
About the Author:
Caro Llewellyn is the author of three previous works of nonfiction. She is the former director of several large-scale literary festivals and cultural events. She has hosted writers from every corner of the globe, including a number of Nobel Prize winners, and presented events at the Sydney Opera House, London’s Southbank, the Louvre, and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, Town Hall, 92Y and historic Cooper Union. She is currently a director at Museums Victoria. Diving Into Glass is her first work of autobiography.
Diving into Glass
Published by Penguin Random House Australia
Released on the 5th March 2019