She Left me the Gun: My Mother's Life Before Me by Emma Brockes
She Left me the Gun is the author's exploration of her mother's life before her. It is part memoir, part investigative journalism, part travel narrative, and part family history. It takes place in England and South Africa and it promised to be a very provocative story of a life left behind.
At the start Ms. Brockes explains that she had a very happy life, and that she had only the smallest of hints that her mother had a horrible childhood. When her mother dies of cancer, the author makes contact with her mother's sisters and brothers and attempts to discover a life that she really knew nothing about. It reminded me a bit of After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey which I read last spring and LOVED.
The thesis was that the mother, by not telling the author her sad story, was able to protect her from the sadness; she closed off this part of her life so that the daughter (the author) could have a happy life and a happy childhood. The author went to South Africa to meet her long lost family and try to capture the story that her mother never told.
The premise was intriguing and kept me interested to the end of the book. I was immediately captivated by the premise and couldn't wait to see how it unfolded. Unfortunately, it felt a little loose. She meandered and unfolded the story in a very disconnected manner. She hinted at the story through family members' silence and raised eyebrows, but no one talked about "what happened" and no one really described the father-the horrible man at the center of this story. A little about where he came from, nothing about where he went, just court records and quiet conversations and a few snapshots. It was unsatisfying: a great premise, the hint of a good tale and it all simply meandered away.
I did like reading about South Africa. Would love to go there again someday. The author created a lovely travel narrative with a bit about crime and history of South Africa and some tourist spots. Fascinating Country.
Spoiler alert: this is a book about childhood sexual abuse.