Shortlisted: Best Biography of the Year
The Costa Judges: ‘Searingly honest, raw and funny – breaks taboos about family and love. A stay-up-all-night read.’
Radical politics are wasted on the young. When you’re full of energy and potential, the system’s nefariousness remains abstract. By middle age, you’ve logged evidence that life is unfair. With “To Throw Away Unopened,” her incandescent midlife memoir, a menopausal battle cry equal parts Nora Ephron and SCUM Manifesto, the British punk icon Viv Albertine is entrenched enough in mainstream society to advocate blowing it up from the inside... where Albertine describes herself as frustrated, exhausted and repressed in real life, on the page she is wry and vibrant, and seems to hold nothing back. In the end, the death of her mother — “the woman I couldn’t bear to lose or wait to get away from” — grants Albertine a strange peace.
No feeling is ever just one thing. Albertine grapples with the inherent contradictions of love and loyalty. Her eye-watering honesty, about everything from sex and shitting to the people who make and unmake us, is the engine of this book. It’s a declaration of both love and war. The continuance of life, the patterns we avoid and replicate, how each experience stays in our molecules. Albertine’s own daughter has shown her how to be, when the life she lived for decades was hindered by who she wasn’t.
It is driven by a relentless honesty about herself and the dysfunctional family dynamic she was born into, which she lays bare with an almost forensic eye. It explores her upbringing in a working-class family in Muswell Hill in the 1960s, her parents’ breakup, her mother’s central role in shaping her fiercely independent outlook and her fraught relationship with her younger sister, from whom she is now estranged. Her conversational style of writing is lullingly deceptive, allowing the revelations, when they come, to explode like well-placed time bombs in the narrative.
Albertine’s writing is not indulgently cathartic but fierce, direct, unashamed. She masks nothing. The result is a book that does for the family memoir what its predecessor did for the rock autobiography: scythes through the myths, the distortions, the adornments and finds the rich, distinctive stories beneath.