Your Voice in my Head
By Emma Forrest
Published by Bloomsbury at €19.80
Reviewed by Sue Leonard.
What’s your favourite way to spend at evening at home with the one you love? Do you watch a movie, perhaps, or listen quietly to music? Emma Forrest, a Los Angeles based writer, journalist and socialite enjoyed her evenings with Simon, in a rather more unusual way.
‘We cut together, several times,’ she recounts in her searingly honest memoir. And we’re talking bodies here. And the slashing of stomachs, thighs and arms. ‘Sometimes he goes too far,’ she writes. ‘Sometimes I do.’
Emma Forrest is, by any account a success. She had a column on the Sunday Times at sixteen. And by 21 was living the high life in New York, interviewing the famous and the great. She wrote two novels. So why, then, does she make a very real attempt to end her life?
Because, it seems, that sheen of success covers a mass of insecurity. Emma has been unhappy since she was fifteen. It’s not only the cutting. She’s bulimic too, and thinks constantly of killing herself. She attracts drama, and is compelled to mix with those who will cause her most pain.
Emma met a psychiatrist, Dr R, when she was at her very worst. And he saved her life. He listened. He made her understand her addiction to love, sex and the dangerous, and he told her, constantly, that she would be ok. He told her so convincingly, that she could only believe.
Your Voice in my Head charts Emma’s encounters with the great Dr R. And when he dies, without first warning her that he’s far from well, she feels betrayed. Needing to know why, she meets his widow; she encounters other patients; patients who suffered all manner of conditions, who admired the doctor just as much as she. All say that he saved their life.
The memoir is intended to be a tribute to Dr R. But it’s much more than that. It charts Emma’s high profile, but ultimately doomed relationship with our own Colin Farrell. (Referred to as GH – short for Gypsy Husband.) It includes an encounter with Monica Lewinski, who asks Emma for some diet-tips.
It’s a tough read at times. Even when Emma is ‘better,’ she thinks of suicide every day. ‘But as something softer, more like a scent.’ Perhaps more worrying, is her ‘romantic dream.’
‘Some people look into the future and imagine themselves at their daughter’s wedding. I always had this romantic dream, that when my daughter had a breakdown, I’d go uptown to see Dr R.’
Like many agony memoirs, this one is utterly self-indulgent. I suppose that’s inevitable, given that, in such extreme depression, sufferers have little room in their brain for empathy with others.
In portraying madness as somehow normal, I can’t decide whether this book is dangerous to other sufferers, or helpful in lifting the stigma. Whichever, it’s a surprisingly enjoyable read. Emma writes like a dream. Humour bubbles through the pain, and her portraits of her family are a delight.
Even in this, though, Emma has an unusual take. She describes her first abortion as one of the most touching experiences of her life. Because it brought everyone together from her family to her friends. And no, she doesn’t express even a tincture of remorse, or regret.
By the close, Emma’s in pretty good shape. She’s fallen out of love with madness, and has come to terms with the death of Dr R.
Sue Leonard is the author of Keys to the Cage. How people cope with depression. New Island. 2010.