The Big Issue : Edition 499
Colson Whitehead THE BIG ISSUE 27 NOV – 10 DEC 2015 37 SECOND HALF FIRST DRUSILLA MODJESKA MEMOIR IS A tricky, sneaky business. How do you write one without revealing the secrets of your friends and relatives? Are your memories of long-ago events reliable? Where is the boundary between truth and fiction? Drusilla Modjeska has played in these murky waters in the past, having released Poppy, a “fictional biography” of her mother, in 1990. She has also written of art, history, war and womanhood in her previous works, including The Orchard and Stravinsky’s Lunch. Second Half First, the tale of Modjeska’s life and loves, gets off to a powerful start by teleporting us to the night of her 40th birthday, to the moment she realises she can’t spend another decade with the same unfaithful man. Along the way, we hear accounts of other creative women in search of, in the words of Virginia Woolf, “a room of one’s own”. Convents and communal kitchens, psychiatric wards and remote villages in Papua New Guinea – across the years and the globe, Modjeska examines how and where women of intellect carve out physical and emotional space for themselves and their art. Is it really too much to expect, she asks, for a woman to have both love and independence? Or, as she puts it in relation to one lover, “Mornings... That’s all I ask, uninterrupted mornings. For him it was another abandonment.” The question repeats itself across the book in many guises, slipping from Modjeska’s life to renowned artists and the work that tackles it. Told in a narrative sequence that jumps around by theme rather than following a linear timeline, the shifts in the story are nonetheless logical and easy to follow. What could be lofty and pompous remains in Modjeska’s deft hands grounded, thanks to her willingness to share moments of gritty reality – relationship breakups and disagreements and sadness – along with the joy of finding a kindred spirit and making memories. The reader is invited in to draw parallels with their own life, even as they are enchanted by the breadth of Modjeska’s – from her childhood in England, to writers’ festivals and arty events in Australia, to her arrest in a foreign land. There’s a lot to like about this memoir, especially for anyone who’s ever struggled to find balance between alone time and the company of others. You may not find the answer, but you’ll feel better knowing others grapple with the same conundrum, and still manage to carve out a life of richness and depth. by Rebecca Douglas » Second Half First is out now. SELECT DRUSILLA MODJESKA Covering the standouts in film, music, books and home entertainment.