Unflinching memoir about growing up affluent and unhappy in Britain.
All she wanted was a normal, suburban existence. But for Lowell, under the veneer of privilege as the daughter of a wealthy heiress lay many miserable years of alcoholism, benign neglect and emotional turmoil. Family, household, relationships—all suffered from the “family problem.” With an aristocratic pedigree that stretched back centuries, Lowell spent the public part of her young life attending balls and having tea with royals, and the rest of it tiptoeing around her volatile mother in a series of ramshackle mansions. Her mother, arguably the main character of the book, could be self-absorbed, overly dramatic, conniving, exasperating, socially awkward and remarkably unmaternal. It is telling that one of her mother’s husbands, the poet Robert Lowell, with his crippling bouts of mania and mental illness, emerges as the most stable person in her childhood. Scarred literally and figuratively by her childhood, she nevertheless grew into a powerful and privileged young woman, hobnobbing with royalty, movie stars, artists and writers, and even dating Harvey Weinstein. But eventually substance abuse got to her, too, and she spent years bouncing in and out of rehab facilities. After her mother’s death, she encountered the mystery of her own paternity, a theme explored in the last few chapters. Part of the narrative’s power comes from the fact that the narrator, though certainly recovering, is not quite out of the woods yet, and she doesn’t speak with illusions of perfect hindsight. Her keenly honest descriptions of her extraordinary circumstances keep the narrative moving swiftly. The other part of the story’s allure—perhaps ironically for a book that shows how privilege doesn’t always bring happiness or contentment—is the glamorous crowd that surrounded her. Lowell never tries to impress us, but her life undoubtedly makes for a juicy read.
An unsettling yet entertaining chronicle of an exceptional life.