Among a whole slew of moving debut memoirs this month, I chose this brave and elegiac account of growing up in a Lancashire farming family who combined their fierce love with a devastating inability to discuss either mental illness or death. Simpson writes movingly of her sister Tricia's suicide at the age of 46, and the decades of depression that led up to it, charted in diaries which documented a childhood the sisters shared but experienced very differently. Ultimately it's a story of what it is to love someone with mental illness.
This is not a depressing read, but rather a rich family history that seeks to find a way to break the silence and address the unspoken... Much of this book is Catherine’s attempt to explain Tricia, to understand what happened, to wonder if things could have been done differently... This memoir about Tricia, but also about a family going from five to four to three, about the history of a Lancashire farm, is a considerable achievement.
n a way, the real memorial for Tricia is the compassionate and beadily observed account of the Lancashire landscape. Simpson is unafraid to plait the pastoral with the darker aspects of country life: she does not hide the ugly accoutrements of intensive farming, such as pig farrowing crates, and she shows how flashers and gropers sometimes took advantage of all three sisters when travelling alone in open country. That honesty underwrites what should be an enduring addition to writing about both mental illness and rural England. It would be something of a spoiler to say whether or not she finds a reason for her sister’s suicide, but less so to report that she appears to gradually understand and forgive her parents’ silences.
Tricia’s heart-rending biography is interwoven with welcome portraits of Simpson’s bonkers ancestors, many of which are laugh-out-loud funny... Their difficult relationship is expertly drawn... The joy of the book lies in Simpson’s vivid evocation of the sisters’ wild childhood... There are warming tales of delivering fresh milk to neighbours on horseback, but the brutalities of agricultural life are laid bare, too: when a nest of baby rats is discovered, a farmworker stamps on their small pink bodies with hobnail boots, without a thought for whether the children witnessing it should be spared the massacre.