Today I am sharing my thoughts on Eighteen Seconds, Louise Beech’s moving and thought provoking memoir which is out today. Happy publication day, Louise. My thanks go to the publisher, Mardle Books, for the advance copy via Netgalley. Here’s what the book is about:
About the Book
My mother once said to me, ‘I wish you could feel the way I do for eighteen seconds. Just eighteen seconds, so you’d know how awful it is.’
I thought about it. Realised we could all learn from being in another person’s head for eighteen seconds. Eighteen seconds inside Grandma Roberts’ head as she sat alone with her evening cup of tea, us girls upstairs in bed. Eighteen seconds inside one-year-old Colin’s head when he woke up in a foster home without his family. Eighteen seconds inside the head of a girl waiting for her bedroom door to open.
Writer, Louise Beech, looks back on the events that led to the day her mother wrote down her last words, then jumped off the Humber Bridge. She missed witnessing the horror herself by minutes.
Louise recounts the pain and trauma of her childhood alongside her love for her siblings with a delicious dark humour and a profound voice of hope for the future.
You never quite know what truth is hiding behind a smile. What actual pain and turmoil endless positivity and laughter might be masking. That is certainly true of Louise Beech, whose memoir, Eighteen Seconds, gives readers a warts and all look into her childhood. Moving, completely honest and often quite raw, the author leads us through her early years, to her almost destructive behaviour in her early adulthood, driven by a kind of self loathing and distrust that had been cultivated throughout her childhood. The inspiration to tell her story? Her mother’s attempted suicide in 2019, an act which she missed witnessing by just a fraction of time. The two stories – past and present – intertwine perfectly, and slowly reveal the truth of four children, Louise and her siblings, who were continually let down by the adults around them, facts which have coloured their adult lives too.
To quote Philip Larkin, ‘The f@ck you up, your Mum and Dad”. that seems especially true of Louise Beech’s parents – a largely absentee father and a mother who suffered depressive episodes, alcoholism and a succession of unsuitable relationships which only served to exacerbate an already difficult family life for the children. Taking us between the various places the children called home, describing their time both in care and under the protection of their Grandmother, it is a very stark portrayal of a family for whom a demonstration of love from their mother was scarce and neglect almost guaranteed. You really get to feel the way in which all the various barbs and comments from her mother, chipped away and the confidence and positivity within Louise and alongside some very shocking revelations, it is hard to wonder how she finds the courage to maintain such a positive facade in the way she does. Her one respite from the darkness, aside from the love and strong bond she shares with her three siblings – her passion for writing and telling stories.
The chapters and moments in which the author describes her mother’s suicide attempt and her ongoing treatment really do hit home how much the depression affected the family. These scenes are honest, and often emotional, as the toll of fighting for their mother’s care comes to the fore, as well as the memories it triggers. I actually really appreciated and understood the way in which the family, including Louise’s uncle, managed their fear and anger, both understandable reactions, through the use of, at times, some very black humour. With asides and quotes from the family which feature during this moment in the present day, as well as recounting the past and the impact that their upbringing had on them, it is very easy to see why their reaction to this latest episode from their mother, is not met with just compassion and concern.
This book is brutally honest at times, and I can only assume, quite cathartic. Sadly I can empathise completely with elements of Louise’s story, and understand fully how it is possible to have truly complicated feelings about your parents. Not every childhood is a positive one, and each and every cutting comment or rejection does leave a mark which is felt long into adulthood. As always, the writing within this book is beautiful, the darkness which could, in lesser hands, be overwhelming brightened by some stunning imagery. Each chapter starts with facts or quotes about Daffodils, their relevance clear to anyone who has followed Louise Beech on social media, although this is also explained in the book.
One thing the book also makes clear, is how much her early years have informed her writing, and as I read I could tick off the moments, and the people, that had inspired each of her beautiful tomes. It is also clear from reading this book how she manages to infuse that sense of melancholy into each book, and yet to lift them with a sense of hope as I think that this sums up the author’s life too. Behind that wondrous smile, and the many books up and down the land which have been festooned with the author’s trademark boob-art, there is a person who has survived a very difficult journey, a little battered and bruised, but still with a determination and compassion that’s more than just a little bit inspiring. Emotional and brutally honest, this is definitely a memoir worth reading.
About the Author
Louise Beech lives in East Yorkshire and grew up dreaming of being a writer but it took many years and many rejections for her to finally get a book deal in 2015, aged 44. Her debut, How to be Brave, got to No4 on Amazon and was a Guardian Readers’ Pick; Maria in the Moon was described as ‘quirky, darkly comic and heartfelt’ by the Sunday Mirror; The Lion Tamer Who Lost was shortlisted for the Popular Romantic Novel of 2019 at the RNA Awards and longlisted for the Polari Prize 2019; Call Me Star Girl was Best magazine’s Book of the Year 2019; I Am Dust was a Crime Magazine Monthly Pick; and This Is How We Are Human was a Clare Mackintosh Book Club pick. In 2023 her new novel, End of Story, will be published under the pen name Louise Swanson. Louise regularly writes short stories for magazines, blogs, and talks at universities and literary events.
3 thoughts on “Eighteen Seconds by Louise Beech”
Wow, you never know what someone else has gone through. This sounds like a very moving book. Great review, Jen.
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Thank you. Yes it’s definitely a good reminder that a smile can hide a multitude of sins
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