The thing is we probably don’t remember.
Back in 2017 Brandy Bessette-Symons, an associate professor at Ithaca College department of psychology, conducted a series of experiments to gauge the impact of emotion on memory. She found that “False memory is the most robust effect of emotion”. That makes the writing of any memoir a difficult business, certainly if the author wants to be honest.
The desire to provide these things is confirmed before “Hell is Round the Corner” really begins with the note to the reader; “There are family members talking about things that happened before I was born, or when I was too young to know what was really going on. And then there are friends who might remember things better than me – I had years of smoking weed, all kinds of drugs. Know what I mean? Sometimes it’s more reliable someone else saying it.”
The pursuit of truth, particularly the truth about ourselves and about our own lives, is best served by looking outwards, letting other voices speak, by listening and being willing to accept that the way you remember things is only part, one version, of myriad possibilities of what actually happened.
In “Huis Clos” (Sartre, 1943) the three characters in the play, Garcin, Estelle and Inez, find themselves in Hell. There are no flames, no torture, no brimstone…just the three of them in a drawing room. At the plays close Sartre gives us the line that, possibly more than any other, has come to define him in the minds of the public;
“All those eyes intent on me. Devouring me. What? Only two of you? I thought there were more; many more. So this is hell. I’d never have believed it. You remember all we were told about the torture-chambers, the fire and brimstone, the “burning marl.” Old wives’ tales! There’s no need for red-hot pokers. HELL IS OTHER PEOPLE!”
As the story of Tricky’s life unfolds the voices of friends and family alongside his own begin to paint a picture of a life lived where Hell is not round the corner but is, instead, all around him. Death, violence, pain, heartbreak, crime, drugs and excess are all frequent visitors. At times it seems too much…too much to bare, too much for one person, too much to be true. And yet the voice is so authentic, the events so vividly recounted and the feelings that are provoked so tangible that it is impossible not to accept that these things not only happened but that they happened in exactly the way they are presented.
When my daughter was two years old she had a nasty fall that resulted in her slicing her bottom lip in two, almost as if it had been sliced with a knife. There was a lot of blood, screams, horror, panic and fear. Once we were in the hospital and things had calmed down, when we had been reassured that the surgeon would be able to mend her I was told that I would have to bring her to surgery, it would be my responsibility to hold her while they anaesthetised her. As I held her and the anaesthetic took effect she suddenly went from being a wriggling, wiggling, mass of flesh and bone to a dead weight.
A dead weight.
It was terrifying.
I started to panic.
Then I cried.
I handed her to a nurse and was escorted out of the room.
Now, five years later I cannot go to sleep unless I have made sure that my daughter is alive.
I stand by her bed and lay a hand on her head.
Then I wait for her to shift, move, breathe deeper…until she does that I can’t leave.
Five years on from a fall and some minor surgery.
Quite how anyone copes with the loss of their child is beyond me.
I cannot begin to imagine.
Given that his story is bookended by the loss of both his mother and his daughter it is remarkable that this book manages to be, ultimately, uplifting. It is a story of strength, of the faults and failings that lie within each of us, of the shared pain we all have to encounter at some point and the things that bind us together. Maybe we didn’t grow up in Knowle West, maybe we haven’t experienced the sort of loss that he has and maybe we don’t have the remarkable talent that he does but in Tricky, in his tale, we can find some hope and some evidence of how that, often, can be enough.
“Hell is Round the Corner” is published by BLINK and is on sale from October 31st.
Pre-order your copy HERE