Just as I’m thinking “This sounds like Holden Caulfield. Is he channelling J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye?”, William Leith mentions Karl Ove Knausgaard. Knausgaard’s series of books, My Struggle, chronicles his thoughts and feelings, beginning with his father’s death. Leith orders the series, and when it arrives in the post he is terrified – he feels “dread”, wants to put the books on a high shelf with the spines facing the wall. Then, when he begins reading the first volume, A Death in the Family, he is gripped. Leith often depicts himself having two opposed reactions. In his earlier memoir, The Hungry Years: Confessions of a food addict (2005), he writes: “I am always too empty, and yet too full. I am always too full, and yet too empty”. There’s quite a lot of that here.
Leith came early to the confessional writing game. A Guardian article published in 2005, by which time his tortured relationship to food, drink, money and drugs had become a staple of his journalism, described him as the “poster boy of binge living”. His binge living was driven by anxiety, and the writing about it, displaying his appetite for self-harm and honing his expertise in liking himself less and less, gave him a living. The Cut That Wouldn’t Heal has a present-tense immediacy, beginning ten seconds before his father’s death, but some of the material is recycled from earlier writings. The “cut” of the title is on his father’s leg, and Leith doesn’t press the obvious metaphorical application to himself. Beginning with his birth, which his father didn’t welcome, and continuing through a childhood in which his father was mostly absent, physically and emotionally, Leith charts the many ways he failed to be good enough. His father, a psychologist, apparently didn’t notice or didn’t care that his son was bleeding.
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'Beginning with his birth, which his father didn’t welcome, and continuing through a childhood in which his father was mostly absent, physically and emotionally, Leith charts the many ways he failed to be good enough.’ (@nclarke14)https://t.co/V78ggSbLX4
— The TLS (@TheTLS) June 3, 2022