Good Reading : November 2015
GOODREADINGMAGAZINE.COM.AU GOOD READING NOVEMBER 2015 18 BOOK OF THE MONTH Writing becomes her ... UK wr iter Jenny Downham only ever felt that she had two possible choices of career – an actor or a writer. She always loved to pretend to be other people, would act out stor ies for the entertainment of her family, and always took part in school plays. She went to drama school and became an actor, but she never gave up on her dream of being a wr iter. Unless you’re in the ranks of superstar actors, however, and can afford a retinue of hired help, being a travelling actor is very demanding – especially if you have a family. Jenny decided to give up on her thespian career when her second son was born, as there was no way that she could go out on the road with two children in tow. It may have seemed like a backward move at the time, but Jenny had no idea that she would go on to be shortlisted or nominated for numerous prizes, including the 2007 Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize and the 2008 Carnegie Medal, and become the winner of the 2008 Branford Boase Award. Jenny is the author of three books (Before I Die, You Against Me, and now Unbecoming), but this latest novel is perhaps her most personal. The story centres on Mary, an elderly woman whose memories are ebbing away as she succumbs to dementia. While Jenny was writing the story her own mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and eventually died. Jenny has said that she found it very cathartic to try to imagine how her mother might have felt as she struggled with the disappearance of her memories; she acknowledges that there’s a lot of her own mother in Mary. Few writers can churn out a book as a ABOUT THE BOOK Katie only meets her grandmother Mary for the first time when she is 17. But by that point Mary is almost completely lost to dementia. As her only living relatives, Katie’s small, broken family is forced to care for her. Katie can see something in Mary, a spark that she’s missing in her own life, but her mother Caroline, Mary’s own daughter, hates her. Why? As time goes on snippets of Mary’s life are revealed to Katie dur ing her brief moments of lucidity, and a long-kept family secret is at last revealed. Unbecoming celebrates life in a way no other book has done before. The difficulties of dealing with dementia are expertly placed alongside teenage angst and single motherhood, and though many issues are tackled, this is not a ponderous or depressing ‘issues’ book. It is, instead, a book to love. Age guide 15+ JENNY DOWNHAM started her working life as an actor, but the demands of a travelling theatre troupe didn’t exactly integrate well with the pressures of family life. She left her thespian career behind and became the bestselling author of Before I Die. Unbecoming, her latest book, is a life-affirming story about identity, desire and learning to honour your own stories. While Jenny was writing the story her own mother was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease ...
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