The book is written simply, with a tender humility that shines the light on Mapplethorpe and other tragic geniuses of that era, tracing their guiding hunger, their successes, and ultimate failures. The book isn’t sad though—it’s transcendent. Smith is the survivor, her story extending well beyond the pages of the book.
Hilburn does have the special gift of getting behind the glitz and glamour of these famous stars and merely starting conversations with the person. He says in several places throughout the book that he was often assigned interviews at the last minute at the artist’s request, and rather than conduct a proper interview with microphones or tape recorders, he and the artist simply had a conversation, Hilburn jotting down notes and important quotes as they talked.
All in all, despite any questions about her methodology, Humbert ‘s account of her wartime experience is a remarkable book, a testament to at least one woman’s ability to maintain her humanity when inhumanity is all around her.
Besides the obvious obstacles—an extreme communication barrier, a culture so completely opposite of Western values and practices, and hoping to not get on your traveling companion’s nerves—these two innocent, naïve college girls were walking in utterly unknown territory. But in the end, mental anguish turns out to be the biggest danger of the trip.
Without that inner life coming to the fore, without more psychological depth, he comes across as self-centred, bullying, and insufferably sexist. The author hints at these problems, but she needs to have explored them more deeply to bring out the special character of Ivan that drove her to write this book.
The reader can’t help liking the author for his honesty. He is unashamed to admit to occasional physical or mental breakdowns, and his efforts to maintain a positive attitude in the face of an indifferent public and the even more indifferent (and occasionally vicious) publishing and music industries is laudable.
Levy paints a realistic picture of what life is like for this generation of neglected youngsters, and it’s a bleak picture indeed. Bored, promiscuous, and frequently high on drugs and booze, they break into houses in groups to steal and vandalise. They are so disconnected from society that they feel no empathy for their victims, or shame over their actions.
There are perceptive moments, they are just buried beneath unnecessary detail, and skillful assistance would have helped to bring them out and make this a much more lively memoir. Perhaps a second edition? Despite these problems, Emmanuel Alexion has produced a heartfelt and down-to-earth story of he and his wife’s return to their birthplaces, of particular interest to the Greek community in Australia.
This sense of both the fragility of nature, and the fragility of man within nature, becomes an underlying theme that carries Swimming with Crocodiles (Picador Australia) beyond simply a travelogue. We begin to identify with Chaffey as a character, and his development becomes meaningful, but we also put his experience into our own context, and it therefore becomes meaningful to us.
Kathleen Stewart’s memoir is poetic, courageous, and shocking. She shows how children can be so badly treated, how women can be so badly treated, how the mentally ill can be so inadequately treated, that they can destroy themselves and others and the world continues on, oblivious.