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E with a searing intimate memoir that fans of Lorna Sage’s Bad Blood Mary Karr’s Lit and Diana Athill’s Somewhere Toward the End will agree “cements her status as one of our most important literary writers beyond uestion” Financial Times. OK clearly she s a brilliant writer and knows how to use words in magical ways But trying to read this stream of consciousness memoir was like swimming through a very large lake of very thick oatmealI ve already donated the book so I can t uote directly but allow me to give you the flavorMy Aunt Zelda was very tall with thin legs She wore thick stockings the color of weak tea Her mother it was rud was a trapeze artist I was briefly friends with Zelda s oldest child Peter Peter enjoyed ham radio oysters and comic books He gave me my first comic book which I shared 25 years later with my second child by my first husband That was two years before I started going blind and one year after I stopped drinking Zelda was also an alcoholicEnjoy

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What to Look for in Winter

The British literary sensation “the most startling discomforting complicated ungovernable hilarious and heart rending of memoirs ” The Telegraph the story of a celebrated writer’s sudden descent into blindness and of the redemptive journey i. Candia McWilliam is a supernaturally gifted writer able to craft prose into unforgettable images and potent insights Her latest book contains breathtaking observations and crippling emotional honesty What a shame then that so much of it is a waste of her talent that makes the memoir as a whole such a chore to finishSince I received my copy of this book as part of the Vine program I began reading the first page with a feeling of obligation to finish the last before I could write a review For the first hundred pages or so I worried that I would never finish because I kept grabbing a pen to underscore the most striking lines for example describing the hours between two and four in the morning the time when suicide suggests itself and addicts give in and taking an anecdote about enjoying a pomegranate with her mother and infusing that moment with mythological weight by tying in the Persephone myth and being unsurprised to learn that the seeds were measures of time spent with or without a mother When McWilliam is willing to put forth the impossible effort to reflect on herself both her present struggle with functional blindness the author develops a condition called blepharospasm in which her eyes work just fine but her brain refuses to open her eyelids and her early days enjoying a brief childhood and falling in love with her native Scotland she is absolutely exceptional Unfortunately she only makes these achievements in the first hundred odd pages and in the last hundred and fifty or so making for half of a near perfect book The bulk of the middle is an exercise in McWilliam neglecting her gifts in a shameless list of dropped names and brief tributes that reads like the Acknowledgements section in the liner notes of an album by a peculiarly grateful musician to paraphrase Then at school I met So and So the grandson of So and So who has done for me in my blindness than I can express Then I met So and So who was so beautiful and who has been such a generous lifelong friend Then I got married and was surprised to find that Lady Diana later chose the same dressmaker Then we went on a honeymoon and met So and So If I had not felt obligated to finish reading for this review I certainly would have capitulated around page 300 and moved on to anything else I suspect that many readers will do the same which is a tragedy made tragic because I don t place much blame on these hypothetical readersMcWilliam herself spends some time in this memoir to explore her theory of what makes a proper memoir anticipating criticisms about a lack of a clear character arc or a strong theme Her book is inspired by approaching blindness and its implications for her as a novelist in my first paragraph I intentionally chose vision based language to echo her conclusions about how vital a sense of sight is for verbal communication but it also serves as a passionate love letter to the joys of reading and writing and as a hesitant hand offered to fellow addicts seeking recovery and as a woman mourning her own mother while keenly aware of her own failings as a mother and wife The resulting lack of focus can be infuriating even when I temper my reaction with the knowledge that she does what she does on purpose and even though I love so many of her tangents This is a woman unafraid of her literary background and confident in her insistence on tantalizing silences there is a whole novel lurking behind a line like I had just returned from India where I had gone to convince a friend that it was home that he was pining for and not me and I wish she had been able to make impossible choices to excise enormous cancerous chapters that drain the vitality from the rest of the memoir and the reader Although a uick search on com reveals that her novels are not readily available in the United States I can say with confidence that McWilliam is an inspiring talent who is capable of so much better than this I loved so much of this memoir but everything else was so terrible that I cannot in good conscience recommend it to any but the most devoted fans of Candia McWilliam or the Scotland she loves so well I feel such a sense of loss writing a two star review for what should have been a five star memoir

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Nto the past that her loss of sight sets in motion Candia McWilliam whose novels A Case of Knives A Little Stranger and Debatable Land made her a reader favorite throughout the United Kingdom and around the world here breaks her decade long silenc. Twenty odd years ago Candia McWilliam was a novelist I always looked out for Then no novels came This memoir provides explanations for the silence In her old glittering style clever dense with allusion really demanding to be read out loud to be appreciated Candia McWilliam reflects with exhausting subtlety on her states of mind on the childhood lossesrejections the self distaste the feeling of not belonging or not deserving things which led her to sabotage what on the surface was the gilded life of a great beauty I know because I checked Google Images and a literary dazzlerSometimes during the 480 pages I became annoyed with the author for wasting her opportunities and not appreciating how much she was cared for how relatively fortunatue in spite of everything but her pain was so intense and so brilliantly made real to me that mostly I just wished her recovery from her addiction her loss of vision and her feelings of unworthiness This is not an easy read


10 thoughts on “What to Look for in Winter

  1. says:

    Candia McWilliam is a supernaturally gifted writer able to craft prose into unforgettable images and potent insights Her latest book contains breathtaking observations and crippling emotional honesty What a shame then that so much of it is a waste of her talent that makes the memoir as a whole such a chore to finishSince I received my copy of this book as part of the Vine program I began reading the first page

  2. says:

    25 starsPoor Candia uestions her own right to take up space of any kind so severely I feel cruel not liking her book much Perhaps the most extraordinary and powerful thing about the text is its expression of vulnerability In part it reads as th

  3. says:

    One of the great books A 53 year old Scottish novelist begins to lose her sight through blepharospasm being unable to open one's ey

  4. says:

    Twenty odd years ago Candia McWilliam was a novelist I always looked out for Then no novels came This memoir provides explanations for the silence In her old glittering style clever dense with allusion really demanding to be read out loud to be appreciated Candia McWilliam reflects with exhausting subtlety on her states

  5. says:

    Truly one of the greatest autobiographies that I have read When I worked at Blackwell's in Oxford one of my favourite customers was Candia Dinshaw otherwise known as Candia McWilliam a woman who bought good books never asked how her books were doing and often entered the shop with a stunning bouuet of flowers that could not help but light up any young bookseller's lifeTo say that this book reduced me to tears is an understatemen

  6. says:

    Scottish novelist McWilliam wrote fantastic very dense inventive novels in the 80s and 90s then went through a long dry spell A few years ago she started to go blind not because her eyes stopped working but because her eyelids refused to stay open as a result of a rare neurological condition Her response was to hire an assistant and start dictating her memoir Her story is painful alcoholism self hatred a family

  7. says:

    OK clearly she's a brilliant writer and knows how to use words in magical ways But trying to read this stream of consciousness memoir was like

  8. says:

    Can't work out what irks me about this woman's writing but regrettably I find her unreadable Had to stop after just a few pages

  9. says:

    I suspect that than usual there will be a mixed reaction to this book and that's the case if you look at the read

  10. says:

    I can see why folks might hate this one and bail on it McWilliam is an odd person who's led a strange life delivering her story in a somewhat convoluted pedantic the dictionary on my e reader got uite the workout