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.