What to look for in a memoir…

February 4, 2011 at 4:33 pm | Posted in Biography | 1 Comment
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I would as a reader generally shy away from reading memoirs and biographies as often even the most interesting stories are so heavily grounded in narrative they become disengaging. Candia McWilliams memoir ‘What to Look for in Winter’ is movingly different. She sets the narrative of her suffering at the loss of her sight against the often tragic but beguiling story of her life producing a well paced and plotted memoir.

McWilliams was judging the Booker Prize in 2006 when she first began to lose her sight and when we meet her in the book she is Cambridge educated, part of the English aristocracy has been married twice  once to an Earl and emerged out of these relationships with three children and a wicked drinking problem.

I believe in person there is an other worldliness quality about McWilliams and a striking beauty , the same can be said about her writing. Her memoir has a detached tone when describing her experiences which mirrors McWilliams own withdrawal from the world. Throughout her life she gains and loses many things; husbands, homes, health, self respect….she probes each experience with her beautiful literary eye pulling together the sense of her life with the aid of a Cambridge inspired vocabulary.Her strong sense of self is paraded out through confident prose and language, meaning becomes jewelled in language. In one particularly beautiful scene McWilliams daughter asks here why she likes the royal family and her explanation encapsulates the ideology of the royal family with a very clever perspective.

Her experiences at times are physical (the loss and re-gain of her sight, horrific battles with alcohol), at times they are heavily emotional self-destructive, ugly, romantic, poignant but the eye with which McWilliams looks at her own life with is so probing that all these experiences and battles with herself are beautiful because they are self aware.

It is with deep self-awareness this memoir is written and that’s what sets it apart from the others. That and the extraordinary life McWilliams has so far led. One reviewer of McWilliams describes her like ‘a northern princess gazing  out of a cold castle onto icicles and pale eyed wolves’ and this is truly apt.

Haiku: Candia’s language, shiny diamonds in the dark, luminescent life.

Click here to view this book on Amazon.co.uk

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  1. I’m going to put this book on my TBR list as it sounds like a fascinating memoir. Thank you for the review. Currently, I’m reading a inspirational memoir called “Major Dream: From Immigrant Housemaid to Harvard Ph.D.” (author Jin Kyu Robertson Ph.D.) It’s about how this women overcame huge odds and achieved the American Dream. Talk about determination!


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