ROSIE WATERLAND Every Lie I’ve Ever Told. Reviewed by Jessica Stewart
Rosie Waterland gives a clear-eyed reckoning of her life in this new memoir.
In Every Lie I’ve Ever Told, Rosie Waterland tells stories from her ruptured childhood – first laid bare in her 2016 memoir The Anti-Cool Girl – interlacing them with intelligent, wickedly funny observations about being a woman today.
As the daughter of addicts, Waterland was neglected and abused; she went to 17 schools, lived in a violent home, and was hospitalised in a psychiatric ward. While The Anti-Cool Girl is the story of her survival, this new book marks a maturity that comes with self-knowledge. Waterland learns from her experiences and, in recounting her shortcomings and flaws, she asks us to think about ours. Her examination of grief, trauma, sex and relationships is evidence of a woman who does not flinch from introspection. Every Lie is also the story of her love for her best friend, Tony, whose sudden death brought home to her sanity’s wafer-thin fragility.
She opens each chapter with a lie she has told herself and others over the years and weaves serious discussion among her self-deprecating stories. ‘I haven’t had bad sex since I promised I wouldn’t put up with it‘ asks, ‘Has porn broken the brains of men?’ Her story about going to bed with a 21-year-old who is shocked by her pubic hair should be required reading for millennials. In a follow-up, she invites the reader into the bizarre and humiliating experience of laser hair removal:
It’s uncomfortable enough to have to get naked from the waist down, lie down on a table and spread your legs as far as they will go. But it’s even worse when you do that and the heavily made-up technician looks directly into your snatch and lets out a big, unimpressed sigh. ‘This is going to be difficult’, she says, wincing now but not looking away from my vag.
Yet, Waterland muses, the counter-argument is that ‘waxing your pubes is a powerful example of the autonomy you have over your body’. How can women today work out who they are with so many contradictory messages?
Waterland struggled with eating disorders in her 20s. In her chapter on body image and that Facebook photo, she asks again, Why is what we look like more important that what we do? But there isn’t time to think about answers in today’s 24-hour media-blitzed world. While her nude selfie caused a media frenzy, her accompanying considered examination of society’s skewed obsession with women’s bodies was all but ignored. It’s not new, but I’m so glad she’s putting these questions out there again, and to a new readership:
Just don’t be too fat, too skinny, too sexy, too prudish, too aggressive, too passive. Be a role model for all other women but be modest enough to never think you’re a role model. Have it all, but also admit that it’s impossible to have it all.
As a former writer for Mamamia, she used to be part of that world, ‘the Fast-Food Opinion machine’, but having taken a step back, she is now struck by the sheer volume of meaningless drivel, aka ‘content’, that it generates. She asks us to think about its harmfulness – the cruelty of labelling people, of defining a complex life with a tag.
Waterland is acutely aware that her own change in attitude has come only after she has been personally hurt:
(I know – how narcissistic to only realise the error of my ways after I was the subject of media scrutiny. Scrutiny that I had participated in countless times. But I got there in the end, at least? I’m ashamed to say that’s the best I’ve got: I did get there in the end …)
After Tony’s death, she told people that she was ‘okay’, but she was drowning, not waving. Her subsequent breakdown and suicide attempt brought home the biggest lie of all – that her ‘mental-illness story was one of past recovery, not current struggle’:
‘Recovered’ means it’s over, I’m good now, I can talk about this because it’s only in my past. That girl was a crazy lady. This girl is fine. I’m okay.
Her acknowledgement of her vulnerability is a powerful contribution, both for those living with depression and anxiety and those caring for them. I read her book at the same time as Alain de Botton’s The Course of Love (2016) where he discusses the human predilection for delusion: we in the Western Anglophone world would do well to learn more about our character traits, the insanities that are deeply embedded in our psyches.
Rosie Waterland’s clear-eyed reckoning of her life meets his challenge head-on:
Let’s all embrace failure. Let’s all accept that we can only be perfect at being imperfect. That’s about as close to ourselves as we’re ever going to get.
Rosie Waterland Every Lie I’ve Ever Told HarperCollins 2017 PB 320pp $29.99
Jessica Stewart is a freelance writer and editor. After two decades working in public policy, she followed her heart and now works with books and words entirely for less money, but a thousand times more satisfaction. You can find her at www.yourseconddraft.com where she writes about language and books she’s loved.
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