Review: Your Voice Inside My Head by Emma Forrest

26 Jul

Pretty much everyone is calling this the Colin Farrell book right?

Emma Forrest’s memoir Your Voice in My Head is getting a lot of press because she dated notoriously non-monogamous Colin Farrell and she details the relationship while still trying to retain a level of anonymity for all her partners, including Farrell. It’s not difficult figuring out which of the men in her memoir he is, and if you really wanted to focus your reading on the celeb-worshiping part of this book,  you definitely could.

I didn’t really know about her relationship with Farrell until I was mid-way through this, and truth be told by that point, I didn’t really care. Sadly, that was my overwhelming feeling about this chronicle of Forrest’s mental health/personal relationships. In the end, I just didn’t care. I know now, after I’ve finished it, that Forrest has quite the career as a writer, having penned columns for some of the biggest magazines in all the land like Vogue, Vanity Fair and Time Out, as well as several novels and screenplays. Her style is distinctive and recognizable to those who are looking out for her in the first place. But in the process of reading the ebook, I was mostly confused at first and irritated by the end.

The premise – not that you really need one for a memoir – is this: Forrest discovers that her long-time psychiatrist, Dr. R,  has died unexpectedly from an illness no one knew he had and she struggles to cope with the loss of that relationship. This is presumably what I thought it was about, but it is equally and unsuspectingly about the break-up of a significant relationship (Farrell) in the wake of Dr. R’s death. It attempts to join the grand tradition of mental illness memoirs, and in many ways it succeeds in painting a vivid picture of the author’s struggle and failure to regulate her bipolar disorder, in which she repeatedly succumbs to depression and bouts of eating disorders and suicide attempts. To say I didn’t care is too simplistic, and I fear it sounds cold-hearted. I can certainly relate to and empathize with someone suffering from a mental illness, but the way in which the book itself was written left me feeling very little sympathy in what should be a gimme situation for a memoirist.

My issues with this memoir are pretty simple.

First of all, the title suggests that the main focus will be Forrest’s reaction to and subsequent coping with the death of her psychiatrist. And while there are cursory attempts to remind the reader that this is in fact what she’s trying to do by including comments by patients left on a message board about Dr. R, it feels more like a gimmick. Like this death was the impetus for writing a book that in the end didn’t make any concrete statements about what losing that relationship is really like. She touches on it in the beginning, but by the end, it feels like an entirely different book, a break-up memoir, and I would have liked to see some sort of meaningful conclusion that tied it all together. Because there was no attempt to come full circle, Forrest gave the impression that she actually didn’t care about Dr. R’s death in any way beyond how it personally affected her, which was extremely off-putting.

Secondly, the way Forrest structures the book in terms of narrative arc was one of the most chaotic things I’ve ever read. She jumps between time periods with no warning whatsoever, and while I understand that the intention might have been to replicate her chaotic mind, as a reader I was confused, all the time. At one point, I compared my ebook version to a print copy to make sure there wasn’t something wrong with the digital file that caused the chapters to get shuffled. I’m not asking for much, but even tiny transitions would have gone so far in my level of understanding. It’s distracting to have to reorient yourself ever time there’s a section break on the page.

I have no doubt that Forrest battles a very real and, at times, very debilitating mental illness. But these two major problems I had with the memoir made me perceive her as neurotic, instead of ill. And I ended up not liking her at all. The potential is there, for sure, for this to be a brilliant memoir, but the gaps and the poor narrative choices left me annoyed and ultimately uncaring.

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6 Responses to “Review: Your Voice Inside My Head by Emma Forrest”

  1. C_Girl July 26, 2011 at 9:21 am #

    Hmm. I just finished this–I think Magnolia mentioned reading it, and it was part of the big Kindle sale–and I really liked it. Of course, a break-up memoir, complete with shrink abandonment issues, was sort of the perfect book for me at this time, so.

    I guess I wasn’t expecting it to have a conclusion, per se. It felt more like a poetic meditation about grief (though funnier and more visceral than that implies.) It was definitely a little starf*cker-ish, but then, I would totally write a book about it if I slept with Colin Farrell and Aaron Sorkin (allegedly the older writer). It was the Farrell narrative that rang a little false to me, that she still believes that what they had was real when he was talking about marriage and babies five days after they met…I think I would think someone who did that was unstable (as he clearly is.)

    It was an uneven little book, though I suppose a story about grief written by a rapid-cycling manic depressive SHOULD be so, to be authentic. I don’t think Forrest is someone I’d like to hang out with, but I think I will re-read her book and copy down some passages that struck me. Try reading it again with a freshly broken heart–maybe you’ll like it! (Kidding, kidding.)

    • Rachel July 26, 2011 at 10:03 am #

      I know that a lot of people liked this book, and I absolutely see where you’re coming from. But for me, I would’ve been able to understand and enjoy the unevenness of the book had it felt like there’d been slightly more of a “coming full circle” undertone. Instead, all I got was neuroses. Maybe you’re right, maybe I haven’t been heartbroken recently enough to appreciate this 🙂

  2. Clinton Kabler July 26, 2011 at 11:14 am #

    You handled the negative review well and avoided the qualifying “I”. I have no desire to read the memoir. Dating someone with a notoriously poor track record in monogamous relationships is more deserving of readers’ wrath for poor judgment rather than empathy.

    • Rachel July 26, 2011 at 11:42 am #

      One of the things I struggle with most is how to write a negative review of a memoir. I’m not critiquing her as a person; I’m critiquing the actual writing and structure of the book itself. It’s such a slippery slope. Had the book been constructed better, I think my sympathy for the author would be exponentially greater. But now? Not so much. Thanks for the comment and tweet.

  3. erica barmash August 1, 2011 at 11:08 pm #

    I read this a while back and I felt similarly. The part that bothered me most was that it seemed hardly about her relationship with her therapist at all. In my mind, it still is the Colin Farrell memoir, and the fact that she never names him but that their relationship is easily google-able just felt too cheeky to me. Also, I love memoirs of mental illness, and to a certain extent I think playing fast and loose with structure is excusable . . . but not when the mentally ill writer is also a successful journalist.

    • Rachel August 2, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

      These were exactly my issues with it as well. The relationship with her therapist felt like a put-on – the excuse to write a book that was really about her relationship with Farrell without being tacky enough to just come out and admit it.

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