“My life is made up of rooms,” Granta publisher and editor Sigrid Rausing writes in her new memoir, Mayhem. “The rooms are actual rooms, the rooms are different languages, and the rooms are different relationships. I see my complicity, my guilt. I see my tiredness, my hopelessness, my false moral superiority, my finger wagging, wagging. I regret everything. I see my guilt, I see the guilt of others. All of us are guilty, all of us are complicit.” Such is the wreckage that addiction leaves behind.
For more than a decade, Rausing’s brother, Hans Kristian, and her sister-in-law Eva suffered through drug addiction. In 2012, Eva died of drug-induced heart failure. Due to their family’s vast wealth—Rausing, Hans K., and their sister, Lisbet, are heirs to Sweden’s multibillion dollar company Tetra Pak—the entire story of Eva’s death and Hans K.’s addictive past became tabloid fodder. While the papers focused on salacious details—some with merit but most unsubstantiated and baseless—Eva’s death left Rausing and her family spinning. Two pressing questions emerged for Rausing in the wake of Eva’s passing: how can the narrative be reclaimed, and could she have done more to prevent this?
“At the beginning, I was just writing to make sense of what had happened,” Rausing explains about starting the book in the aftermath of Eva’s death. “I was very, very upset at the time, so I was writing very fragmented pieces, and then I got this urge to understand more of exactly what had happened and what the timeline was. That became a kind of quest.” The sharp, haunting power of this quest often takes aim at the hows and whys of events, honing in on both family splintering and the mostly picturesque youth that belies Hans K.’s future. The book’s structure is almost dreamlike as Rausing shifts back and forth through time, emotions, and understanding of what’s transpired.
The candidness with which Rausing explores the strains of her relationships with Eva and Hans K., her family’s history, and her own sense of guilt, however, has also led to a sense of reservation about the project. “I’m filled with shame and self-hatred and anxiety about having written this book,” she says. “This openness I felt when I wrote it—this fearless openness—can only exist in English, as it were.” Rausing is currently editing the Swedish translation of the book. “In Swedish, I’m much more nervous about being as open as I was in the book,” she continues. “It’s fascinating and it’s very troubling. It’s the question of who are you in different languages. I don’t know the answer to that.…Am I really touching the deepest feelings? How far are they embodied and trapped in language?”
In any language, addiction and its subsequent guilt have been ominous forces in Rausing’s life since the turn of the century; the addict does not suffer alone, after all. But now, with Hans K. in recovery and working on his relationship with his children and the family, Rausing hopes that the family will begin to move forward. “This terrible drama was all-absorbing. My reaction has been to write this book and to not engage very much in the ongoing fearful email conversations. It’s done now. It’s done now. It’s done,” Rausing repeats, sounding both exhausted and relieved.
But even the most intimate stories can prove difficult to reclaim once they’ve slipped into the public domain. Shortly after this interview was conducted, the Guardian published an article in which Eva’s father denounced Mayhem as “self-indulgent,” among other unflattering remarks directed toward Rausing. “At some point in my book I meditate on whether this story can ever be framed by anything other than tabloid headlines,” Rausing says when contacted for a response to the Guardian article. “I guess the answer to that at this point is no.”
Alex Layman is a writer living in Austin.