Thursday, February 16, 2006

Skye Rogers: Drink Me

I don't often read a book by an unknown author, prior to publication, and say to myself Hmm... this could be a really big seller. But that's what I think about Drink Me, by Skye Rogers.

Drink Me is scheduled for publication in Australia, by HarperCollins/Fourth Estate, on 22 February. And I can't find it on Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. So here's a tip for any UK or US publishers or agents whose eye may, quite inadvertently, have fallen upon this page: it might be worth finding out what the rights position is.

Drink Me is a memoir, and in view of the current hoohah about Memoirs and the Truth, it is worth noting the author's statement at the start of the book:

This memoir is based on certain episodes of my life that may be remembered differently by others. I have changed names, combined characters and compressed or extended events for narrative purposes.
So now you know the position. And it seems to me to be a perfectly proper one for an author to take. In other words, as I read it, the author is manipulating real-life events in order to create emotion in the reader, and in so doing to convey to the reader the greater 'truth', if you will, of the author's own experience. That seems to me to be not only acceptable but wise; otherwise the book would be both less interesting and less valuable.

The story of Drink Me is very simple. Sensitive, intelligent, and talented young woman is, naturally, in search of Mr Right. She meets him, falls in love, commits herself fully to him for several years, but then discovers not only that he is Mr Wrong, but he is Mr Alcoholic as well. (And he was into porn and affairs with other women.) It is a story which could not end happily, and it doesn't -- except that Skye is at least free to get on with the rest of her life. The setting is Australia but it could be anywhere.

There's a great deal more that I could say about the book's contents, but that's all you really need to know, and the rest of this review falls into two parts. One is a discussion of the structure of the book, for no better reason than that is a problem of narrative technique which interests me; and the other is an analysis of why I think Drink Me could find a large audience.

Those who write an autobiography, or a memoir, are faced with the problem of how to arrange their material to best effect. A complete amateur would probably start at the beginning (I was born on 4 May 1939...) and go on to the end, timewise. But even the first reader will soon advise the writer that this is not very interesting. How then to do it?

The answer, I believe, is to intercut, moving between various points in the past in a way which will arouse interest. And if you want a really good example, though one which I suspect is long since out of print, see Early Havoc, by June Havoc. In that book, alternate chapters deal with June's early life, on a chronological basis, and events during a dance marathon in which she participated as a teenager. The book was no doubt ghosted, but whoever it was did one hell of a job. June, by the way, was the sister of Gypsy Rose Lee, whose life led to the Broadway show and musical Gypsy.

Skye Rogers, in Drink Me, does not use so rigid a structure, but she waits until we are some way into the story of her relationship with her main man, Daniel, before telling us about such matters as her earlier love affairs, her eating problems, drugs, the psychiatric hospital, suicide attempts, and so forth. And if that sounds depressing, it is, sort of, but not because it's badly written. Quite the reverse: of its kind, this book is exceptionally well done. The book is slightly depressing (for me at any rate) because it reminds us of the extent of human folly.

And now we come to the book's sales prospects. I spent the first third of Drink Me wondering how it came to find a publisher. Not, I repeat, because the book is badly written; but who, I wondered, would buy it? But then the penny dropped. This is an absolutely universal story: it is, in its way, Everywoman's story.

Consider, if you will, the present state of relationships between men and women. We are all biologically programmed to go in search of each other; but you surely cannot sit there and tell me that, in today's world, the results are satisfactory. Without even trying hard I can think of countless friends who, even if they have contrived to stay married themselves, have sons and daughters who are divorced, separated, not seeing their children, et cetera.

I don't know exactly how old Skye Rogers is, but she's fortyish. Let's take the average woman of that age. She is likely to be married, or shacked up with, someone who goes out early, comes home late, eats a meal, slumps in front of the telly, and falls asleep. He is a paunchy, jowly, balding apology for Prince Charming. He is a man with serious shortcomings; especially in bed. Our heroine, come nine o'clock in the evening, will look across the room and say to herself, How the thump did I ever fall for him?

That's if she's lucky. If she's not lucky she will have a plate in her jaw from where one of her many men hit her with a baseball/cricket bat, she will have been given a nasty dose of the clap by the bloke before last, the one who went off to live with that nice young man from the boutique, and the kids, if there are any, will be living in a foreign country where they were taken in open defiance of a court order.

The truth is, and I would like to say that I am joking here, but I'm not, most of these women would be far better off with a bottle of wine and a good vibrator.

These are the women -- and they are not few in number -- who are going to find that Drink Me doesn't just strike a chord: it's plays the whole tune; and it's a hit record. Yes, they will say, as they turn the pages. Yes, yes, I know, I know. I did that too. And oh, that's so true.

As Mrs GOB has been known to remark, not referring to anyone in particular, there are a lot of disillusioned women out there. And they are the audience for this book.

The current British bestseller list features an unexpectedly large number of books about women who had a hard time. There's Ugly, in which one of the UK's first black women judges tells how she survived childhood abuse. Then we have I Choose to Live, by a Belgian girl who was abducted by a paedophile; Just One More Day, by the novelist Susan Lewis, which is a memoir of her difficult childhood, and The Little Prisoner, the story of a girl abused by her stepfather from the age of four. And that's not even counting the two books by Katie Price (aka Jordan, the generously bosomed model), who describes the ups and downs of her love life.

So those are the reasons why I think Drink Me could, perhaps, take off.

After Daniel departed, by the way (and it was a good many years on), Skye Rogers fell for another alcoholic. She describes herself as a slow learner. But now she lives with a scientist whose sole addiction is nicotine. Which, I have to say, is quite bad enough.

It is not surprising, given the skilful way in which Drink Me is put together, to find that Skye Rogers has written a number of other books. You can find details of these on her web site. One of them was a memoir written jointly with her mother. She is also a designer and illustrator, turning her hand to anything from greetings cards to packaging and logos.

10 comments:

femme au foyer said...

call me selfish, but I can't see the interest in reading about other people's woes especially when they are that grizzly. I can understand why they needed to write the book, but does them getting on the bestseller list mean that so many others have similar stories? Or is it, in this age of reality TV, yet another proof of our voracious voyerism?

pundy said...

Simply wanted to say that I'm glad to see you back, Grumpy old boy. Your non-appearance yesterday had me worried for a minute there. I hate being the only bad-tempered old geezer around these parts.

Lex said...

Your post strikes a very familiar chord. I have noticed that the latest trend in both literature and television/film are these depressing stories in which one horrific event follows another. People of our age seem to have a fascination with the shite-filled lives of others, either because they can relate, as you said, or because they have a morbid curiosity. While this, in turn, depresses me, I can certainly understand how books like Drink Me are, and will continue to be, successful.
I'm a big fan of your blog by the way.

Anne Weale said...

Mrs GOB is right : there are a lot of disillusioned women out there.
But there are also a lot of happy, fulfilled, contented women who are longing to read some positive memoirs by people whose lives haven't gone wrong.
I had hoped you were going to comment on the unconfirmed story that "HarperCollins is on the verge of signing a £5m deal for footballer Wayne Rooney's memoirs, which they'll release in five volumes over the next 12 years."

sea_greeny said...

Great review Grumpy. Shame it is only available in Aus at the moment - I have recently read it and I found it very inspiring. Despite making wrong decisions and hard choices, the end result is an impression of a woman who has come through some very difficult times - as we all go through at some point, in one form or another - and emerged on the other side. Anne Weale - don't be fooled! Those 'happy, fulfilled, contented' women you refer to have all been through their rough patches too - maybe not living with an alcoholic, but inevitably, in some form or another, they have struggled with their own demons too. We all have them! Don't be deterred from this book if you think it is a story of a 'life gone wrong' - how many of us make the right choices all the time? Very few, I would argue. Inspiration for me often comes in hearing about people's struggles and triumphs... not just their triumphs.

Bernita said...

Dear me, how to be an idiot and succeed...

Anonymous said...

bernita, i've survived both a relationship with an alcoholic soul mate and a terrorist attack with a suicide bomber. perhaps you should stick to writing blogs about what you actually know about and think twice before judging people as idiots?

Anonymous said...

This book was not depressing or self-indulgent. Without others willing to share experiences, we fall into the trap of smug self righteousness and the belief that our lifestyles and choices are superior. It takes the courage of the individual to speak out about their experiences outside of societies 'norm'. Writers such as Skye Rogers, provide us with support and insight into situations that we will all eventually find ourselves exposed to at some stage in our priveleged lives. I encourage everyone to read this book, as it invokes strong emotions and is well written. You will not easily forget this book once read.

Anonymous said...

consider being rose in this story and reading this of your deceased father, with out any forwarning of it's release.

drink me is a selfish release for skye to twist the dagger in dan's already hurting family.

well done skye!!!

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