Tuesday, February 23, 2016

This Is Happy by Camilla Gibb

Reasons why I engaged with Camilla Gibb's memoir that explores the meaning of family, This Is Happy:

  • elegant prose
  • struggles with mental illness
  • her unusual childhood situation
  • her lesbian marriage and divorce
  • demonstrated gift for empathy
  • finding of emotional support
  • context for her novels (which I have also loved)

Gibb writes about being in the midst of a major depression while doing graduate studies in England, feeling "not just unseen, but unseeable."

"Perhaps it was the need to know whether I still had a body that led me to open my door to relative strangers: my door, my bed, my legs. To men, women, couples. The net result of a lot of random sex was that what was left of me disappeared."

Coincidentally, immediately prior to reading this memoir, I encountered a fictional protagonist who preferred having sex with couples: Ameera, in Farzana Doctor's All Inclusive.

That's just an aside, because Gibb's compelling story has little to do with her sexuality. She was pregnant when her wife left her and their daughter was born shortly afterwards. It's about what happens when you are devastated but now have a child as well as yourself to look after. It's about finding a way forward, partly through storytelling.

Gibb reminds us that storytelling is vital to our humanity, that we are a narrative species. Stories "make us knowable to others" and give children "the tools to help them know themselves." We are "bound for better or worse, in all sorts of complex and beautiful ways, where we become ourselves in relation to each other and carry something of the other - visceral, embodied - within us."

This Is Happy is a "story without an ending at all. And this, I know, is happy."

Readalike: Adult Onset by Ann-Marie MacDonald. 
See also my review of The Beauty of Humanity Movement by Camilla Gibb.

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