My penultimate review of the six books shortlisted for the 2018 Wellcome Book Prize. The final one for The Vaccine Race will be my stop on the official blog tour, for the prize which starts tomorrow (details above).
Mayhem: A Memoir by Sigrid Rausing
You may remember much news coverage of the Rausing family, heirs to the Tetrapak fortune. A tragedy occurred in summer 2012, when the body of Eva, the wife of Hans K Rausing was found in their London house. Hans had hidden the body for some weeks. He was given a suspended sentence for delaying burial, and spent time in psychiatric care. Eva and Hans were both drug addicts, frequent relapsers, frequent visitors to rehab, frequently not managing to control their addiction, yet they managed to sire four children, who ended up in a custody battle before being taken in by Hans’s sister Sigrid.
Sigrid, the editor of Granta magazine, wrote this book as a memoir recounting the effect of addiction on a family. It has been a controversial book in the extreme. I have to say, I didn’t feel easy being privy to this family’s trauma. From a medical point of view the cyclical nature of their addiction came across clearly, but the rest felt intrusive at times. Of course you may say, given the column inches of speculation and reporting of the kind that never forgets to mention the family’s billions, that it is morally right that several years later, Sigrid has written her side of the story.
The text is written in vignettes, which chop and change through the family timeline, from the Rausing’s childhood, from various family interventions, visits to see Hans in rehab and so on, mixed in with psychoanalytical insights, and occasionally – happier memories, perhaps from their childhood in Sweden. She writes to distract herself from thinking about writing the book too:
I notice that I an hesitant to begin the story. I write around it.
Her writing is sparse, every word considered and carefully chosen, Rausing is clearly an perceptive writer. She is very hard on herself; she is brutally honest, knowing that others will be hurt by the book. Rausing is hampered however by not being able to say more about Eva and Hans’s children for legal reasons. The narrative arc, such as it is, is fragmentary and she admits in her afterword that it is ‘partial and unfinished’.
This left me with the questions: Why now? Is it not too soon? Sometimes, though, you just have to get things off your chest to help yourself. (6/10)
Source: Own copy
Sigrid Rausing, Mayhem: a memoir (Hamish Hamilton, 2017) hardback, 208 pages.
BUY from Amazon via affiliate link below: