TITLE: THIS IS NOT ABOUT ME
AUTHOR: JANICE GALLOWAY
PUBLISHER: GRANTA BOOKS
COVER TYPE: HARD BACK
BLURB FROM THE COVER
From her earliest years with a boozy, accident-prone father and a reluctantly pragmatic mother Janice Galloway’s grew up as a watcher – careful and vigilant. Then her parents’ marriage broke up and mother and daughter moved to an attic above a doctor’s surgery. When her big sister Cora returned home, with her steady stream of boyfriends, snappy dress sense and matching temper, evasion became a way of life.
This is a funny and telling book about the routine dependencies and confusions, hopes and triumphs of childhood: it is also a book about emergence, as slowly, the beginnings of unsuspected rage that pushed the silent girl towards her voice…
This is my family.
This Is Not About Me is a library book. I read Galloway’s second memoir, All Made Up a few months ago for my book group and enjoyed it. I’ve wanted to read This Is Not About Me since then so I can get Galloway’s full story.
I had a really good time reading This Is Not About Me. Galloway creates a very memorable, powerful and vivid picture of her birth and early childhood into adolescence. I know this is a memoir but I wonder how much are actual memory recalls and how much she has had to rely on other people filling the gaps? I’m not criticising the memoir because I thought it was great, I’m just curious. If This Is Not About Me is only Galloway’s memories I’m impressed by how much she remembers. I’d be hard-pushed to recall so much of my early life. I suspect Galloway had to get some of the gaps filled in.
I was fascinated by the way Galloway explores the complexities of family relationships in This Is Not About Me. This is the central theme of the memoir. Galloway’s father was a heavy drinker and prone to using his fists on Galloway and her mother. In one memorable scene her father locks her mother out of the house while she has hysterics, beating on the door with her fists and begging him not to hurt Galloway. He doesn’t lay a finger on her by the threat, the implication that he could chilled me to the bone. Galloway was an accident, a change of life baby and her mother didn’t know she was pregnant. This is cast up against Galloway throughout her life. Her mother regularly says if I’d known you were coming… implying she would have had an abortion. Cora echoes these implications. At one point her mother says I wish I’d never had you. I was shocked that any mother would say something so cruel to a child even if the sentiment was true. Bad parenting! The stand out relationship in This Is Not About Me is between Galloway and her sister Cora. Like Galloway’s second memoir, All Made Up, Cora is a nasty piece of work. She’s sixteen when Galloway is born and the sisters never bond. Cora effortlessly moves between being a typical big sister to physically attacking Galloway and being verbally abusive. I really wanted to belt her one. What a bitch! This troubled and unsettling relationship between Cora and Gallagher is the driving force of This Is Not About Me. The memoir would be flat and dead without this.
I really enjoyed Galloway’s descriptions of growing up in Saltcoats, a seaside town in North Ayrshire, Scotland. Galloway brings this town to vivid and memorable life. I could clearly picture the town, th sights, sounds and smells. I could link Galloway’s childhood in Saltcoats with my own memories of childhood when I spent several weeks every summer at Anstruther, a fishing village in Fife. I read so many book sets abroad and it was nice to tread familiar territory with This Is Not About Me.
In a way, nothing particularly remarkable happens to Galloway as she’s growing up. She might not have had the happiest childhood or adolescence but she was a lot better off than some. Her experiences recalled in This Is Not About Me are probably quite typical of her generation. A lot of people were poor. A lot of men were heavy drinkers and raised their hand to the women around them. I just didn’t think Galloway’s experiences were unique enough to warrant not one but two memoirs. I felt the same way about All Made Up. This Is Not About Me reinforced this. I enjoyed reading it but still found myself wondering what the big deal was.