Notes to Self by Emilie Pine | Book Reviews | Memoir

By Dymphna Nugent

‘I write this now to reclaim those parts of me that for so long I so thoroughly denied.’

It is in our nature to gloss over the less than perfect elements of our lives. Even if our childhoods were difficult at times, we allow time to soften the sharper edges until we are almost certain we imagined some of the pain. In the first of Emilie Pine’s six essays, Notes on Intemperance, she cannot gloss over those less than perfect elements, nor pretend that searing pain has not followed her from childhood into adulthood. Her father is hospitalised in remote Corfu, covered in faeces and drowning in blood. A lifetime of alcoholism and solitary living has left his body bruised, uncared for and most certainly dying. The roles are reversed and child must take care of parent, even while he refuses to nourish his body ‘We are all here because he likes to drink and now he has the temerity to refuse to eat’. Fighting an undeveloped and underfunded health system, fighting her father’s decline and deafened with the noise of a lifetime of memories, Pine sags under the responsibility of having to face each day, because there is nobody else to do it, and we owe that to our parents.

In 1980s Ireland, couples did not usually publicly separate due to stigma, social awareness and the welfare of their children. Pine’s parents separated when she was five and immediately they lived apart. A period of tremendous poverty followed this, of damp rooms, persistent coughs and cold winters. Pine was a little girl used as a pawn in a game for grown ups, as seen in Speaking/Not Speaking. When the people spoke and divorce was finally brought into law in Ireland, it was with relief that Pine could look around. Her family finally had a name, a category and she was no longer alone.

With startling honesty, Something About Me recalls her need for control throughout childhood, that screaming need for love and nurture that simply wasn’t an option for her due to the financial constraints of their household which called her mother to work. Pine became a little thinner every day and the eating disorder grew rigidly around her, providing the structure and control that she so craved. A dark time saw her spiral into the club scene, dabbling in drugs and having such little respect for her body that she offered it to any man who promised temporary love. A little girl, damaged and tearful stands alone on these pages. Pine beautifully sketches a family wounded so much that they don’t know how to heal together, choosing instead to navigate through their own individual bleakness.

Having emerged as an adult from this clouded grey chrysalis, Pine is happily married with a man she has navigated the labyrinth of adult life with. Holding hands, they have faced the knowledge that their baby had no heartbeat, the knowledge that their country would not help them until their baby clinically died and they have emerged, weathered but deeply respectful of their tenacity. This is the history Pine brings with her, as she watches her father recover from a lifetime of alcohol abuse. Emilie Pine is an extraordinary writer, and her honesty and strength when her hope is being ravaged by the storms is nothing short of celebratory on the page. We cannot erase our battles, but by being truthful, we can reduce the power they hold over us.

(c) Dymphna Nugent

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