I don’t typically go for the ‘misery memoir’ genre of reading because quite frankly I find much of the books that proliferated at the peak of its popularity grim, unrelenting and almost voyeuristic. However when the contents move away from a catalogue of actions to something more thoughtful, an exploration of a person, well I find that fascinating.
Olivia Rayne always knew as she was growing up that other mothers didn’t behave like hers but it was probably more of a slow realisation to making the leap to giving her the diagnosis of a psychopath. This term is thrown about with a fair degree of abandon these days, thanks in part to the popularity of Jon Ronson’s The Psychopath Test which educated the population that not all psychopaths are serial killers, in fact the vast majority move among us.
Mothering though is generally accepted to require all the good skills, protecting, nurturing, and caring which don’t square with what comes naturally to the psychopath. This of course means any child born to such a parent, and you could argue particularly if it is the mother who is wired in this way, is going to suffer to some degree. Coupled as these people often are to weak and ineffectual partners and the result is disaster.
Rayne heads up each chapter to her memoir with a description of one of the 20 accepted psychopathic traits and then follows it with an example of her life with her mother. Some of these events took place when Olivia was a small child, some more recently but many show that the face presented to the world was far from that which she used to scare and humiliate her daughter away from the public gaze. Of course this methodology also allows the reader to make a judgement on the truth of what we are being told in a way that a list of awful events is less likely to have the same impact on the reader.
The book is also testament to that movement that I am desperately hoping will gather pace. Olivia isn’t using what happened to her in childhood as a reason for behaving like a victim. She’s hidden her identity in part so that she can continue working amongst her peers without the prurient details defining her for ever more. Most fascinating of all was the discovery that Olivia had broken ranks on the silence of her childhood a couple of years ago when she submitted an article about her mother to an online paper. The reaction was in line with that which had occurred when she initially broke off contact, a ceaseless barrage of emails in turns abusive and appealing, not just to Olivia herself but to her boss, colleagues and friends.
With a definite feeling that this book is both putting the past behind her and reaching out to others who are in this little studied relationship and giving a feeling of hope for a different type of life. For that you can only applaud this brave author.
I’d like to say a big thank you to Ebury Press who allowed me to read a copy of My Mother the Psychopath. This unbiased review is my thanks to them.