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Customer Reviews

3.8 out of 5 stars
3.8 out of 5 stars
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on 16 January 2011
I can understand why Jane Napier so intensely disliked the name-dropping. I also hated it at the beginning. I was as irritated as I think she was. BUT I actually loved the book in spite of it. I found it riveting to observe a battle between the pretention and the brilliance. When people say it was raw, this was the rawness for me; the fact that nobody told her to get rid of the name-dropping, let it all be there, alongside the brilliance, not just of the language but the terrifying knowingness of Candia's mind. I'd say: read to the end. The second half of the book overcomes the first half where the name-dropping is at its worst. Someone else wrote in their review that the book lives on with you. I found this too. I think Candia's consciousness is utterly worth sticking by, whatever the blemishes. At the risk of sounding pretentious (!) it's like a cave full of treasures and the occasional bit of crap; crap which is just part of life. We all do it, after all. The combination is what I liked about it. I do think she is brilliant, almost whatever she does and is. And with so much plot-driven writing about, it's refreshing to be in the company of brilliance. She carried me through Christmas and that's saying something.
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on 2 September 2011
Wow!! Brilliant, beautiful, amazing. Some of her phrases left me breathless. Some of her language or references I did not understand as I am not as well read or familiar with the classics as she. Other reviewers have been critical of the fact that she has supposedly named dropped and had the oddity of being depressed whilst living in a friend's Chelsea flat - how weird - this is just what I found to be emminently human about her. She was alone, she was blind, her world was getting smaller and smaller - the fact that she happened to be in a Chelsea flat made not one bit of difference to the realities she was experiencing. It is a brutally honest book detailing the contradictions that she live in and with - for example of being alone, both in her blindness and her habit, whilst being surrounded by family and friends. Contradictions that not many of us always have the self-honesty to acknowledge. I admire her bravery and thank her for writing a book that shares the experience of living her life in all of its murky yet starling stark reality. Read it.
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on 23 February 2011
I haven't read any other Candia McWilliam books but was drawn to this because of the reviews. I've almost finished it and noticing that I'm reading very slowly now because I don't want it to end. It's also one of the few books I've ever resolved to re-read immediately. I've found it a truly extraordinary read. Her exquisite use of language and unbelievably original phrasing, the way she describes the indescribable...every page is gobsmacking. (If I was clever, I'd think of a word you had to look up here!). Other critics here have found 'name-dropping' a problem, but she can't help the circles she's grown up in and she clearly doesn't intend to 'name-drop', so don't let that put you off. In fact, in many ways she comes across as someone who has curiously low self-esteem, someone who struggles in her life on so many levels, so I can't help but warm to her. And as much as her language is complex and sometimes hard to read (but in a good way!), you can turn the page and find a really ordinary bit of prose and way of saying something that sits quite oddly with the rest and endears you to her, because she plainly isn't just some posh or privileged one-dimensional person who has it all sewn up, but someone who can describe base suffering in a way to make you weep. The running thread of her life as an unwilling, yet willing, spectre in her ex-husband's new relationship, is totally heartbreaking. If I could wish her a gift, I'd wish her a pair of wings to escape. How can she bear to stand on the sidelines and see his love for someone else, when she appears to still love him and regret breaking up from him? But then her eyes cannot see what her heart is grieving over. Awesome.
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on 19 February 2012
I found this an unbelievably moving, unsparing account by a supremely gifted writer of a life more marked by loss and sadness from an early age than many people will experience in a lifetime. Her awareness that she herself is often the cause of her own pain makes it no less agonising; if anything, it makes the blow of losing her sight on top of everything even more cruel. What is remarkable is how, with the sheer acts of reading and using a keyboard becoming increasingly impossible, her book overflows with beautiful, tender writing about the people she loves, finely-drawn scenes and landscapes and an ability to skewer pretension and callousness with a single, perfectly-chosen phrase or word.

I don't remember any name-dropping. It wasn't what stayed with me from this wonderful, powerful, heartbreaking story.
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on 16 September 2010
I've always enjoyed Candia McWilliam's writing. Her sentences are so wonderful I used to just sit inside them for a bit before reading on. Her heartstopping memoir holds you in thrall long after you've read the last page. The narrative of her life is told here in fragmented, discursive episodes, interspersed with reflections on writing, on memory and loss, remorse and regret, and exquisite descriptions, as subtle and exact as poetry, of the landscape of Colonsay, an island she loves. It is in many ways a heartbreaking book. The author is beautiful and gifted, but has suffered the agonies of alcoholism and blindness and the loss of those she loved. But this is not a misery memoir. She is brave, generous, compassionate and loving. She is also wry and very funny. Her public voice has been stilled for too long. It returns here as vigorous, insightful, precise and beautiful as ever. Welcome back.
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on 28 December 2010
I am a big fan of Candia McWilliam and I have to say, I DID wonder where she had gone and what had happened to her so I was excited to see she had this book out, supposedly explaining everything. I have to admit, I just can't finish it. I know I'm a lone voice because everyone else loves it - it's "brave and fearless" etc and I'll give you that but it's also the most pretentious load of old claptrap I've ever struggled to read. The constant name-dropping!"Oh, Dame Naomi Mitchison was once almost slightly rude to me", "Oh here I am going blind in a rich friend's flat in Chelsea...woe is me". It's unbearable. I can't believe I'm the only person who feels this way. This is the only book in 2010 that I simply can't finish. It's in my desk drawer at work and that's where it's staying. I wouldn't inflict it on anyone else. Simply ghastly! Someone please tell me it was worth ploughing through and why! I will say though, that she has the most fantastic way with words and this well-disguised lump of self pity is beautifully written but that's not enough to keep my interest.
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on 13 April 2011
I had no knowledge of Candia McWilliam before I read this book. I have to say I found this a very interesting read. Yes her prose is very flowery, maybe too much in places - I've never had to go back and re-read so many paragraphs or lines ever before, but the thing is, I wanted to go back and re-read them. Her descriptions are beautiful really.
Her story is told in a completely different way than most autobiographies, it flits between the past and present, she tells of some people in great details, other people not to much (case in point, her 2 husbands).
It is without doubt that she has suffered greatly in her life and I never got the impression that she was looking for sympathy at any stage. I did feel that for somebody so talented, she lacked self belief and self esteem. She did paint herself as a nuisance, a burden to her family. I think it was her lack of self belief which they found a nuisance, not her.
I think she is definitely an interesting woman with a very interesting story to tell and I will definitely add her novels to my reading list.
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on 10 August 2010
Quite simply the most extraordinary book I have read all year. Very rare to find someone who writes so well with such a staggering story to recount. I reviewed this book for the Sunday Times, but since they have gone behind the pay wall I wanted to reiterate my admiration here.
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on 14 November 2011
I found this memoir compelling. As intimate as a diary, it's the story of one woman's unravelling. Written in dense, highly articulate prose it creates an unforgettable and painful portrait of a family who are all in their individual ways looking for clear-sightedness.
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on 6 December 2010
So many wonderful things have been written about this book that I would just be repetitive.
All I will add is that this work forces you to realise the full potential of the human spirit both to destroy and to remake itself, and therefore - through the tragedy and the glory - it attains the stature of myth.
Candia McWilliam went through the valley of the shadow (literally and figuratively) and has surely earned the condition of light.
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