After the intensely personal first section of the book, Grieving, the perspective widens in the central chapters into Losing and here the picture begins to blur. Appignanesi takes on not only her own earlier life but also politics, populism, social media and the contemporary climate of generalised anger. Few of her readers will disagree with what she says about Twitter or Trump, or the dangers of too much time online, which risks creating “a voided life” in which “shaming scapegoating and hating” dominate. But most of it has been said before many times. We Rosemary Hill lose sight of Appignanesi herself, who becomes at this point curiously uncritical, allowing Freud to cast a baleful shadow and some very questionable statements to go unquestioned.
To anatomise one’s own feelings of sorrow and rage after a devastating loss is a brave and painful exercise.
Joan Didion and the novelist Joyce Carol Oates have written memorable accounts of widowhood, and Appignanesi’s searing account of her own bereavement joins theirs as an indelibly honest chronicle of conflicting emotions.
...Appignanesi was blindsided by the fury she was left feeling, when she had expected her grief to manifest itself in the gentle sorrow she had been conditioned to believe more feminine. And at the core of her moving but meandering bereavement memoir, there's a better book on female anger seeking permission to kick, punch and spit its way out... Her analysis of the global mood isn't original - but it is interesting to see it contextualised by her widow's pique... She's good - if brief - on the historic suppression and mockery of female rage and the rise of misogyny online. She's honest about her uncertainty as to where a woman of her age fits into 21st-century feminism... The final third of the book sees her savage grief soothed by the love of her two grandsons. This section is a bit self-indulgent. But through watching their toddler tantrums, Appignanesi makes a kind of peace with her own anger.
Appignanesi opts for a tone that is interrogative and historically probing rather than crusading. She quotes Montaigne – “No passion disturbs the soundness of our judgement as anger does” – before delving into the ways that anger and madness have been long allied. . . . But if wrath is one of the deadly sins, injuring others, ultimately, like envy, it only poisons us. The challenge is to source the right antidote. Inanely, we tell the grieving that time is this antidote – that it heals all wounds. But Appignanesi is after something more rigorous; something that looks more like self-forgiveness.
. . .
Everyday Madness is not without flaws: tighter editing might have checked repetition and trimmed the excessive length given over to the adored grandson. But it is a brave and compelling book none the less. Towards its end, Appignanesi complains that “age erases us”. That’s as may be, for most. But I suspect, somehow, that this writer will kick back at being so easily rubbed out.
Appignanesi’s book fails by taking the reader close to her grief, with all the airlessness that implies, and yet not close enough; something about her slippy, inexact prose bred in me not understanding, but a feeling of distance. The section on Brexit – it climaxes with someone being vile to her, the daughter of immigrants, in a London market – is a rhetorical leap too far; her rage at her partner’s loss might well be mirrored by what she sees out in the world, but the two are not consequent on one another, or even connected.