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 ... The book’s title comes from instructions her mother left with her papers, a directive Albertine fortunately ignored. Her deconstruction of these documents turns the memoir into a sort of therapeutic whodunit. And the way she tells the tale of her mother’s dramatic final night a little at a time makes that story into a propulsive chorus to the song that is the rest of the book ... To Throw Away Unopened is enthusiastically chaotic, bursting with asides, footnotes, photos and quotes (from the likes of Virginia Woolf, Maggie Nelson, Margaret Atwood, Emily Brontë and Graham Greene). The effect is an echo of the cluttered closets and drawers she finds herself excavating once her parents are gone, , as well as of the distracted mind of a middle-aged woman trying to balance a creative life with seemingly endless obligations to other people.
There are plenty of before-they-were-famous thrills, standard issue for a rock-star memoir ... But Albertine’s celebration of the moment before the scene got big, when the line of safety pins in your pants was there to save them from ripping apart, mostly resists cliché. She is determined to put 'punk' in its proper place in the course of a whole life, from childhood to marriage, through cancer and IVF, motherhood and divorce, and back around to creativity in new forms: filmmaking, sculpture, writing ... Albertine is frank and bitterly funny about her pursuit of partners who make no effort at all, compared to the time and money she spends maintaining her physical desirability ... Both the relentless inequality of power between men and women and the violence that lurks underneath to maintain it are recurring themes in Albertine’s life and in both of her books ... How, after all, can we 'overcome' the people who made us, without losing part of who we are? And after their loss, who do we become? Such questions are hardly new, but Albertine’s willingness to probe them unflinchingly makes her book unpredictable, bracing, and engrossing.
By the end of this book you too, dear reader, may feel as if you have had a pint sloshed in your face. There is chronic diarrhoea and flatulence too, not to mention a visit to a sexually transmitted diseases clinic that ends with what has to be one of the more embarrassing questions ever put to a doctor. And you cannot escape the sickly odour of death. No doubt this makes To Throw Away Unopened sound like an unbearably graphic and embarrassing read. Albertine blurts out the kind of thoughts and confessions most of us would think twice about confiding to a diary. Yet she also gives a sensitive glimpse into the inner life of a nonconformist who has overcome an impoverished, dysfunctional upbringing and found some sort of place in the world. Misery memoirs may be all the rage, but Albertine’s dark humor and sharp prose lift her into another league ... this book transcends rock’n’roll.
Like her songs, it is looping, digressive and unpredictable. There are multiple books wriggling inside its cover: a family history, a meditation on grief, tracts on female beauty and on anger. There’s even a guide to middle-aged dating, with Albertine detailing her encounters with dysfunctional men like a Vivienne Westwood-clad Nora Ephron ... She might be writing about the mundane, but her take on it never is ... 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.
Albertine already wrote a book, a very good book, about her time as a punk rocker ... To Throw Away Unopened is closer, in this sense, to actual punk-rock Viv; it feels hastier, less processed, more urgent, as if she was hurt or stung into writing it. (There are still some lovely lines, though.) ... a stomped-from-history guitarist becomes an author who has clawed her way into your memory, not to be dislodged.
She begins with cheeky bravado and righteous anger toward men, middle age, and awkwardness ... Albertine intersperses these portraits with her own deeply ambivalent musings—she and her mother were close—autobiographical vignettes, and a running narrative of the night of her mother's death, featuring a horrendous (and hilarious) brawl with her sister in the hospital. All are saved from bleakness by the author's chipper voice, in turns dry, profane, self-deprecating, and darkly funny ... For memoir fans who appreciate an engaging, unsentimental take on knotty family dynamic.
Like her debut, the wonderfully titled Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music Music, Music. Boys, Boys Boys, which described her journey into punk and beyond, this new volume is essentially a chronicle of outsiderness. 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 ... To Throw Away Unopened is a painstaking—and painful—dissection of her own familial fallout, of the things that had gone wrong at home that, for better or worse, continue to define her as an outsider ... It is a book, I think, that will resonate, like punk did, with anyone from a similar working-class background who is still angry with the ways in which the world had become even more weighted against them in terms of education and self-expression. Conversely, it may shock and appall anyone who doesn’t share or even understand the depth of that anger—particularly when it is expressed by a woman in her 60s.
To Throw Away Unopened mostly leaves music (though not the clothes and the boys) behind, picking up Albertine’s story after the publication of her first book ... Anger, and how to manage it decades after egregious events, is the central problem here, and Albertine picks over it meticulously ... By the end of the memoir, Albertine emerges from grief into something like clarity, though her tendency for brutal self-reflection remains intact. All the rigour and rage of her punk heritage make this utterly compelling writing. No sentimental tropes, no bittersweet reconciliations—but perhaps some kind of future.
Here, the author dwells little on the music through which most previously knew her—and which she covered so well in her previous book—and more on her roles, mother, daughter, and sister, among others ... Not the cultural resource that her first memoir was, but still as brave and engaging in the writing.