Brave Face by Shaun David Hutchinson — review

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Brave Face was not an easy read given that it delves into some of the darkest moments of Shaun David Hutchinson’s life. The memoir focuses in particular over his teenage years where he struggled with reconciling himself with sexuality and with his own personality (who he is, how others perceive him, what others expect him to be…). We see how a lot of the popular culture of his time presented him with demeaning portrayals of his sexuality (which saw gay men as little more than jokes or as sick figures to be pitied). Hutchinson evokes with clarity the way these misconceptions influenced the way he felt about his sexuality, fuelling much of his self-hatred. It was painful to read of the way in which he closed himself from the world, and the way in which his bitterness, hatred, and loneliness seemed to spiral out of control dominating this period of his life.
Hutchinson also captures the awkwardness of being a teenager. The pressures of ‘fitting in’, or belonging, of finding the ‘right path’…he does so in a frank manner, and there were many instances where I felt embarrassed, sad, or frustrated on his behalf. His depression, self-harm, and anxiety are not easy to read of. Perhaps because I share some similar experiences with him, I felt particularly affected by his story.
Another thing that made this a powerful read is that it was realistic. There is no magical cure for depression, and sometimes we grow apart from the people we cared for. Or at times, we care for people who are rather horrible.
My only quibble is that the final chapter rams in too much of Hutchinson’s life. Compared with the slow progress of the rest of his memoir, the last chapter seemed to be trying to narrate the rest of his life, which was a tad overwhelming and definitely all-too rushed.
Still, this is a memoir that will definitely resonate with a lot readers and I fully recommend it.

My rating: ★★★★✰ 3.5 stars (rounded up to 4)

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Things I Don’t Want to Know: On Writing
by Deborah Levy
★★★✰✰ 3 of 5 stars

In Things I Don’t Want to Know Deborah Levy revists her childhood in South Africa in order to better understand her place in the present. She herself admits that her writing favours form > matter and so in this short book she focuses more on the sound of certain phrases rather than providing a more clear cut depiction of her personal life. Levy conveys the kind of thoughts that children have but her writing jumps too quickly between different subjects that I often lost the trail of her discussion or reflection.
Nothing groundbreaking or deeply affecting but in such a short format Levy had a ‘restricted’ space for all those topics she wanted to handle.

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Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson

“She was a monster but she was my monster.”

Despite addressing ‘heavy’ topics, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a fast read.
Earlier this year I read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. For the most part I liked it (I gave it 3 stars) but I wasn’t too taken by it. So I was quite surprised by how much I ended up liking Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? . Although liking perhaps is not the right word. I didn’t like reading about Winterson’s painful childhood and of her more recent ‘troubles’. However, I did think that her words, and story, heartbreaking. I found her memoir to be incredibly affecting. Her words struck a chord. Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? is a poignant and heart-rending memoir that explores love, family, loss, happiness and many other things.

“Love. The difficult words. Where everything starts, where we always return. Love. Love’s lack. The possibility of love.

Winterson’s voice relates here past in a genuine and matter-of-fact way while also being able to make her past behaviours and to make sharp reflections.
Her self-examination is honest. She does not shy away from writing about all of it: the good and the bad, and the downright awful.

“I have always tried to make a home for myself, but I have not felt at home in myself. I have worked hard at being the hero of my own life, but every time I checked the register of displaced persons, I was still on it. I didn’t know how to belong.
Longing? Yes. Belonging? No.

An emotional and contemplative journey that offers many acute observations.

“Pursuing happiness, and I did, and I still do, is not all the same as being happy– which I think is fleeting, dependent on circumstances, and a bit bovine.

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

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