Books sometimes come at exactly the right time. I picked and read Emma Forrest’s Your Voice in My Head last night and read it in a couple of hours. But last spring, I picked up the book at a bookstore, sort of mulled over it, and put it back. And I’m so glad I did. Except for the fact that the hardcover cover art is amazing in comparison to the Vintage Canada copy I bought, I’m so glad I waited to pick it up. There are a lot of books that seem like they can almost have a missed potential depending on when you read them, or the circumstances under which you read them, or the circumstance that you could make for yourself to give a book an entryway to be what it could be, instead of the skim-the-plot-and-skip-the-rest. And for some reason, this was the right time to read this book.
At the heart of Forrest’s memoir is her relationship with her psychiatrist, Dr R, a man who impacted her life so deeply. One day when she tries to call his office to make an appointment, she finds out that he has passed away unexpectedly, and it is this event that allows for her retrospection and consideration of the events that brought her to Dr R, her time in his care and conversation, and what follows after his death. She talks frankly about her own destructive behavior, including unhealthy relationships, self-harm and cutting, and bulimia. Her experience is scaffolded by some of the most reflective and beautiful writing I’ve read, and I was already reading and re-reading passages throughout this first read.
But along with Dr R is her highly publicized relationship with her “Gypsy Husband,” and although she never refers to him by any other name, this man seems to be actor Colin Farrell, who she was with a few years ago. Susan Sarandon, Heath Ledger, and Robert Downey Junior also make appearances in the novel (Forrest sends Downy Junior mix tapes when he is in jail). The careful way that Forrest constructs this memoir is what makes it so affecting, a movement between far past and near past that shapes her recovery and daily living with manic depression.
Forrest’s writing style wraps up these new ways of saying familiar things in whimsical, almost bewitching language. Any passage from the book could be highlighted below, but these were some of my favorites:
1. “It’s almost always pills with women. It’s a gentle seeping out women seek, like on a classic soul record, when the volume on Otis Redding just slowly gets turned down until he’s gone. What happens after the fade-out? What are the musicians doing now in that room? Take me there. Take me there.”
2. “On my third or fourth day there, they bring in a homeless boy who has, like many patients, been picked up from the streets. He has a swastika carved into his forehead because voices told him to do it. I am extremely scared of him, do I force myself to make conversation. He asks what I’m listening to on my Walkman and, ashamed, I say ‘George Michael.’ ‘I like George Michael,’ he says, furious at me for making it seem shameful. Never use pop culture as delineator with someone who hears voices. You don’t know what they hear between the melodies. On my last day, I leave him my Walkman and all my music. I wonder if it’s easier to navigate a stay in a psychiatric hospital now iPods exist, or if it impedes progress.”
3. “At our hotel, a red-faced yelling man wakes us at 6 a.m. with his red face and yelling. The tray of breakfast we’d ordered is not nearly as sodden as his demands that GH cast his kids in the movie. I link any problem I have had since then directly to the foul yelling man, as if he were the sorceress entering the ball on my wedding night.”
I absolutely loved this book for its honesty, poignancy, and frankness, and I know I'll be picking up her other novels soon.