Your Voice in My Head by Emma Forrest can be very uncomfortable to read, not because it is a memoir about mental illness, depression, mania, cutting, attempted suicide, and death, but because it is a humorous memoir about mental illness, depression, mania, cutting, attempted suicide, and death.
To start, I have a confession to make. I didn’t know who Emma Forrest was before reading this book. She’s published a few other books, written screenplays, blogs, worked as a journalist, and has been involved in a high-profile Hollywood romance. And yet I didn’t know about her before now. So I started reading this book without any foreknowledge of who she is or what she’s done.
The book follows the author’s journey through being diagnosed with mental illness (more particularly as a manic/depressive) and meeting with a therapist, identified simply as Dr. R, who she credits with saving her life and being an eternal optimist. At one point, she calls his office to make an appointment and gets a machine saying that the office is closed, and then receives an email a couple of weeks later informing her that her therapist had died suddenly. None of his patients knew he was sick and was fighting lung cancer for several months. The book is sprinkled with short testimonials from Dr. R’s other patients about what he did for them or their relationship with him (these patients are not identified except for a first name or an initial to maintain confidentiality, as Dr. R is said to have had some high-profile patients).
Emma Forrest could be described as a serial dater, at least by her descriptions of her relationships in this book. During her dating trials, she settles into a relationship with a man she refers to only as her “Gypsy Husband,” or GH, who is a popular actor and celebrity. He is never actually named otherwise in the book, but it’s fairly obvious who it is, and you can find out who through a quick internet search. This relationship does not last, and is dealt with as one of the most heartbreaking moments in her life because they had been planning a family and they truly seemed to love each other. Be warned that this is not a tell-all book. Only the emotional parts of the relationship are described in detail, and only for a short time until the break-up. In fact, much more time is spent talking about the aftermath of the break-up than the relationship itself.
The writing style in this book is engrossing, to say the least. At times, it’s hard to say what’s real, what’s artistic license, and what is simply in the author’s head. Most of the time, it seems fairly obvious, but at times, I’m not too sure. But it’s also extremely disjointed, which may be a symptom of the author’s mania. The book is not told in an entirely linear manner, which sometimes gets a little confusing, but not too much so that it takes away from the book.
The voice in the author’s head is obviously supposed to be the therapist, to whom the book feels as though it could be written to as a single long letter. However, this sometimes becomes questionable as the author hears several voices in her head, such GH (especially post-breakup) or her parents. It can sometimes be downright scary as the reader genuinely wonders if there really are voices in her head, or if these voices are the same ones that everyone imagines at some point while they think things through.
Even with all of this, the story is generally told in a rather funny style. The author uses side thoughts and quips throughout the narrative that indicates that she has a sense of humor about herself and her own foibles. She’s genuinely able to look back and laugh at herself, even at times that seem inappropriate. During these humorous parts, the reader can feel weird or bad by laughing at things that it would be otherwise inappropriate to laugh at if the author hadn’t been describing it in a funny way and obviously laughing at it herself, and even then you can feel a little guilty about it. However, the book gets more serious and loses most of the humor near the end, which made the book very uneven. While the author ultimately moves on with her life, it still makes the book end on a down note.
I can definitely say that I liked the book, but I don’t know that can say that my feelings extend much beyond that. While the book is humorous and interesting, and it explores aspects of therapy and mental illness that aren’t often explored, such as what happens to the patients emotionally when a therapist suddenly dies, it’s also very uneven and feels whiny after a while. My sympathies extend to the author for her struggles and for her heartbreak, but it reaches a point where I don’t want to read about her self-pity anymore. It feels excessive. Other readers may feel differently, much like how different friends will have different tolerance for their friends’ self-pity during hardships. I feel for the author, but my pity can only go so far.
Overall, it’s a decent book with interesting aspects, but can get very frustrating at times, especially in the second half after her break-up with GH. It’s a personal story told from a unique perspective that deals with the emotion aspects of therapy and relationships and when they go wrong rather than simply the practical side of these events. But the author begins to wallow in self-pity so much that it becomes difficult to get through as you get to the end. This is what I would describe as almost a purely emotional memoir. Most of what we’re told is what the author is thinking or feeling, rather than what is going on in the real world. An interesting look inside the head of someone in mental and emotional turmoil, but frustrating, nonetheless.
Your Voice in My Head earns three out of five stars.
Note: A copy of this book was sent to this reviewer for free by the publisher (Other Press) through the Goodreads First Reads program. This did not affect this review in any way.