Jan Carroll was 5 when she was trundled off to a Catholic boarding school, the first of many she would attend as her wealthy parents – the golden couple of Sydney, Australia, when they married – sorted out their lives. Her father, the son of storied silent film producer E.J. Carroll, returned from World War II in some way diminished. Her mother was a beauty who, over time, lost her battle with alcoholism.
In her compelling memoir, She Is Heavy – She’s My Mother, Carroll describes the ways she compensated for their poor parenting skills and the complicated love/hate relationship that continued until their deaths. “Boarding school and careless parents make for a very unstable foundation in life,” she writes. Carroll uses the same understated voice telling stories about school, friends, her awakening sexuality and the anguish of living with a drunken mother she both loved and wished dead.
While other girls looked forward to spending holidays with their families, Carroll was consigned to friends and relatives. On the rare occasions she was allowed to go home, she encountered chaos, abuse and neglect. She survived by retreating to her grandfather’s beautiful Prince Edward Theatre to feast on films, chocolates and doting relatives. Describing her happy days at school and with her first lover, the author takes a leisurely pace, but she rushes through the last chapters, leaving readers confused about the chronology. How did she get two children, two divorces and an unspecified job working with court reporters? The last chapter is about her mother’s death and the author’s relief that she is safe at last.
Carroll writes authoritatively and well, keeping readers riveted, despite the above-mentioned issues, until the final page. Only then does she let them down, choosing not to mine the obvious. “What track might I have travelled on if my mother had not been drunk most of my life?” she writes, leaving readers hanging. Perhaps she will provide the answer in another book.
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