In this alluring part memoir, part literary biography, Mills deftly triangulates her own experience of caring for a mentally distressed father with stories of two other carers: Leonard Woolf, devoted husband to Virginia, and F Scott Fitzgerald, husband and ill-equipped carer to Zelda. While Mills doesn't shy away from the hardships and privations, she also provides a powerful and uplifting testament to the precious consolation that can come from caring for another person.
She also takes her readers on wonderful detours through the history of schizophrenia, Foucault’s ideas on madness, critiques of social care in an age of austerity, the vicissitude of her love affairs, the poems of Emily Dickinson, the trials of bereavement, while stopping to reflect on the letters and diaries of other carers, most notably Virginia Woolf’s husband Leonard, who declares himself ‘in service’ to Virginia. ‘It’s touching that Leonard’s adoration isn’t at all diminished by her illness,’ Mills writes. Scott Fitzgerald, on the other hand, dealt with his wife Zelda’s mental illness by relying on expensive sanatoriums, ‘affairs and alcohol’. Mills’s interweaving of stories, both historical and contemporary, displays the complexity of the bonds of familial and romantic love and how they can enrich one’s life and work if we allow them to.
The Fragments of My Father is a brave and original book filled with all kinds of glittering fragments — personal, literary and political. Sam Mills writes YA novels, and her creative imagination never leaves her, even at her lowest, when she feels the responsibility is killing her. It is not a how-to manual, but a powerful exploration of loving and giving.