In her memoir The Terrible, Yrsa Daley-Ward chronicles her life experiences growing up in northern London. The book explores her relationship with her mother Marcia, brother Roo and grandparents.
In fact, considering the close relationship between her and Roo to whom the book is dedicated, it seems like a sort of double autobiography of both the life of Ms. Daley-Ward and her brother.
The tenderness of this relationship is something that matches their own character traits even in a world that seems to treat them terribly.
The book does not hide the fact that its content will be difficult to read. The first line in the book, printed in Daley-Ward’s poetic style, reads, “In love with how it happened so far, even the terrible things. And God, there were terrible things.”
A pivotal moment in her early life was when she had to stop living with her mother. The reason, her mother alludes, is that otherwise her live-in boyfriend would assault her sexually. In her adult life, Daley-Ward faces many difficulties, but this one was the most jarring both because of her age and because her departure from her mother’s house sets off a series of challenges.
What the writer goes through in her adult life in terms of her difficult relationships with friends, lovers, family and her body all seem to draw directly from her experiences as a child. The book explores the deep ways in which our childhoods affect internal identities, something that Daley-Ward drove home using the line, “You may not run from the thing that you are because it comes and comes and comes as sure as you breathe.”
Perhaps the most chilling evidence of this is that when working as an escort, she meets a baseball player she used to watch as a child with her grandfather who asks her to dance with him.
“It is a tragic riot the way that things cycle. You could kill yourself laughing, I tell you,” reads the first line in that chapter.
The Terrible is definitely not a humorous book. However Daley-Ward has her moments. For instance, after a night out, they end up at a friend’s and, hungry, she recounts, “The difficulty of being a guest in someone’s house is that you can’t just go and get yourself something to eat.”
This kind of humour worked for me because I related with it the way one relates to a tweet that is funny because someone other than you has been through a problem similar to yours.
Reading this line in July, for instance, made me chuckle, “Well over half of the year has gone by already, which is a worry. I wanted to make something of myself this year. There’s still some time, I think. Definitely some time.”