The blurb: Emilie Pine speaks to the business of living as a woman in the 21st century – its extraordinary pain and its extraordinary joy. Courageous, humane and uncompromising, she writes with radical honesty on birth and death, on the grief of infertility, on caring for her alcoholic father, on taboos around female bodies and female pain, on sexual violence and violence against the self. Devastatingly poignant and profoundly wise – and joyful against the odds – Notes to Self offers a portrait not just of its author but of a whole generation.
These vividly told and highly readable personal essay touched a chord with me for the raw, honest way they deal with everyday experiences — particularly female experiences from menarche through peri-menopause to middle-age.
The collection opens with a powerful account of Pine’s experience of the Greek healthcare system. She tells of the difficulties she encountered finding care for her father during his hospitalisation in Corfu for a serious alcohol-related condition. She reflects on the challenges families face when their loved one is an addict — of picking up after them when they are not able to look after themselves and of how it is not just practically taxing but metaphysically difficult. It hardens the heart.
The second essay — “From the Baby Years” — recounts Pine’s experience of miscarriage and infertility. She describes the emotional and physical pain she went through while trying to conceive and the added heartache that came with the unexpected loss of her baby niece.
Then comes a piece reflecting on Pine’s parents’ separation and her experience of being a go-between when communication broke down.
“Notes on Bleeding & Other Crimes” is a strong essay on menstruation that captures intensely personal, unspoken experiences many women will relate to.
For me, these four essays outshine the final two pieces — “Something about Me” which reflects on Pine’s troubled adolescence and “This is not on the Exam” which covers her experiences as an academic, teaching, researching, chasing funding and on the conference circuit.
All in all, though, a highly-readable collection. I enjoyed it.
[Disclosure: I read an advance copy via Netgalley.]