A gifted writer grapples with her dead sister’s mental illness.
British journalist Loudon (Secrets and Lives, 2000, etc.) has dedicated a fair amount of her writing life to analyzing people on society’s fringe, including characters from her hometown and members of the clergy. One cannot help but wonder if that interest in strayers from the norm is due to her present account’s subject, older sister Catherine Morag Loudon. Thirteen years the author’s senior, Catherine died at age 47 from breast cancer in 2001, but paranoid schizophrenia had estranged her from the family years before. With great passion, Loudon attempts in spare, incisive prose to reconstruct the life to which her sister painfully denied her access. Holding Catherine’s frozen hand in the morgue, scouring her private notebooks (“as definitive an expression of a broken mind as I could ask for”), the author hoped for glimpses of sanity. She interviewed the few individuals permitted relative intimacy by Catherine—or Stevie, the male persona she often assumed. Loudon traces the progression of her sister’s affliction and her own relation to it. Psychosis takes center stage in many memoirs of family life, but Loudon’s work is distinguished—and, ironically, made powerfully personal—by her objectivity in addressing the emotional, philosophical and poetic conclusions she draws concerning grief, mental illness and the difference between telling your own and another’s story. The author begins her quest to recoup loss by stating, “I did not want to claim her, only to locate her. I wanted to know who and where she had been.” But in the end, Loudon realizes, “I will never know [Catherine] from the inside out, only from the outside in.”
Smart, affecting and self-critically probing: a balm for anyone who has lost a loved one long before death.