Smyth pulls off a tricky double homage in her beautifully written first book, a deft blend of memoir, biography and literary criticism that’s a gift to readers drawn to big questions about time, memory, mortality, love and grief ... a strong addition to a growing canon of hyper-literary memoirs.
Smyth’s memoir is most absorbing when it is absorbed in her own life, especially in her portrait of her father, whose alcoholism creeps deftly into the narrative ... Her prose is so fluid and clear throughout that it’s not surprising to observe her view of her family, its cracks and fissures, sharpen into unsparing focus. The truth is, I didn’t retain much of Smyth’s commentary on Woolf. It is insightful and reverent, but not revelatory, at least not to someone who has studied her work ... [Smyth's] exploration of grown-up love, the kind that accounts for who the loved one actually is, not who you want him or her to be, gains power and grace as her story unfolds. I suspect her book could itself become solace for people navigating their way through the complexities of grief for their fallen idols. And they will be lucky to have it.
...there are some memoirs that reach right out and capture us ... [an] extraordinary debut ... Smyth’s fascination with Woolf enriches her own writing ... The result is a memoir enlarged and illuminated by Woolf’s insights, but mediated by Smyth’s trenchant observations and wit ... This is a transcendent book, not a simple meditation on one woman’s loss, but a reflection on all of our losses, on loss itself, on how to remember and commemorate our dead.