Tag Archives: Darin Strauss

Half a Life – Darin Strauss

If there is one thing that I cannot really abide then it’s the misery memoir. I have always had a slight issue with people who make rather a lot of money and in some cases a huge amount, from having had horrific childhoods. I can understand it might be a therapy of some kind but there just seems something wrong with the whole idea of it, and the fact people will pay to read someone else’s misery. Therefore when I was sent ‘Half a Life’ by Darin Strauss, which also came with lots of legal documentation to hold it all under secrecy, I was slightly on guard before I started it because this is an autobiographical account of how Dari Strauss killed a girl in his late teens. However this isnt a misery memoir, nor does it seem a memoir for money, its something quite different, incredibly written and makes you look at life a little differently…

‘Half my life ago, I killed a girl.’ Is the hard hitting and instant opening line of Darin Strauss’s autobiographical account of the events that took place back in May 1988 on a road on Long Island. What had started as purely a day out driving his dad’s car with a few of his mates became a day which changed Darin’s life forever. This is no confessional, nor is it some grim detailed account (which as you read on you learn people who knew him wanted at school) of what happened when Celine Zilke’s bike swerved. What you have is an honest account of how an event, which he was found innocent of, changed Darin’s life and not just when it happened but in the weeks, months and decades that followed.

As we follow Darin from the day after he tells us how things changed, initially he had no idea Celine had actually died and so his parents sent him to the cinema which I found quite bizarre, but I guess that they wanted some normality for their son after something so tragic. We follow him as he goes back to school, where we learn Celine was actually one of his classmates, to meeting her parents at the funeral and afterwards during a court battle. The description of his meeting with Celine’s mother and her request he promise to live his life for two from now on was hard to read both because of the emotion in any moment like that but also how Darin makes you live it with him.

Those are of course moments of high drama, yet that isn’t what ‘Half a Life’ is about though moments like that are going to be part and parcel of a book like this. We also follow him in the day to day running of his life. Things such as how it affected new friends or possible dates that he met once he had moved away. How even in interviews he would find himself thinking ‘is this job good enough, what would Celine think?’ and how she has stayed with him, and in a weird way also lived on with him, through events such as his marriage and birth of his sons. It’s this aspect of the book that really struck me.

I have to say reading some of the book I cringed at the pure honesty that was coming out from the pages. Not because it was sanctimonious or horrific, as in fact I think it’s done in a very understated and respectful way, but because he tells us in such details the thoughts that went through his head from the shock, to the denial, to those moments he sought out pity from people – those human thoughts we all have but don’t like to admit to – and so on. You really feel its someone bearing their soul for you and that can be quite uncomfortable at times but this is never reads as pity or a confessional. It reads like a hard hitting tale of a horrific event and the ripples it had on the world and the people after. ‘Half a Life’ is an incredible read in many ways, though not an easy one it certainly makes you think. 9/10

This book was sent by the publisher.

I couldn’t quite bring myself to give a book like this a ten out of ten as whilst I admired the writing and the honesty I did wonder how Celine’s family might feel about this book as we don’t really find out. There is also the small question of if this is fearless writing or is it paid therapy? After finishing the book I am pretty certain its the former, but how do we know? I’d recommend people give this book a try. I can certainly see why it recently won the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography this year. I am tempted to read his fictional work now because, as he mentions himself in this book, they all contain all the feelings and emotions from this event even if they have nothing to do with it. They could therefore be quite remarkable too. What are your thoughts on these sort of novels, which I am now calling ‘realistic jolts’ as I think they differ greatly from those misery memoirs?


Filed under Beautiful Books Publishing, Books of 2011, Darin Strauss, Non Fiction, Review

February’s Incomings…

I do love those lists that some bloggers have down the side of their blogs where  the jacket covers of all the incomings that they have received or are receiving as the weeks go on can be seen. Sadly, though I am sure that there is one on wordpress, I have no idea how to do such a thing and as I started one last month I thought I would do another end of month post (which might become a monthly feature) of the books that have arrived this month. Now if you don’t like these sort of posts fear not as you can discuss the pro’s and con’s of big books with me today on this post here instead. However if you love these posts, as I do on other blogs, then lets take a gander at what has been quite a crop of books.

First up it’s the hardbacks and as you will see while a lot of books do come from publishers some are treats from other lovely people, or simply treats from me.

  • Snowdrops by A.D. Miller – This is a book I had been told was winging its way to me and I got very excited about and then the mail man mislaid it. Now it’s here and over the next week or so I am going to be throwing myself into Russia which is a country that fascinates me and yet I know very, very little about. I am wondering if the atmosphere, which is meant to be incredible in this novel, will send me off to read some of the Russian greats.
  • Beautiful Forever by Helen Rappaport – This came out last year and is non-fiction about “Madame Rachel of Bond Street – cosmetician, con-artist and blackmailer” true life Victorian dastardly goings on, what could be more me. This was a belated Xmas pressie from my mother which she brought down last week.
  • One of Our Tuesdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde – The latest Thursday Next novel and a timely reminder I need to start at the beginning (I wanted to see him at Waterstones tomorrow but I will be in hospital, grrr).
  • The Tenderloin by John Butler – a Green Carnation Prize submission from Picador.
  • The Path of Minor Planets by Andrew Sean Greer – One of Faber and Faber’s entries for the Green Carnation Prize. (Publishers are really onto it early this year – hoorah!)
  • Mrs Fry’s Diary by Mrs Stephen Fry – I bought this at Sainsbury’s for £3 on a whim as thought might make me laugh at hospital.
  • Sleeping With Mozart by Anthea Church – I was thrilled when Virago got in touch and asked me to read this but sadly I didn’t care for it much and as I don’t like doing negative reviews it’s leaving me in a real quandary, to write about or not to write about? Hmmm!
  • Darkside by Belinda Bauer – I loved Belinda’s debut ‘Blacklands’ and having been in a crime mood this was ideal. Thoughts will be up tomorrow (if everything works right) on this murder mystery.
  • Ape House by Sara Gruen – After reading ‘Water for Elephants’ for book group and loving it, I am thrilled that Sarah’s publishers Two Roads wanted me to give her latest a whirl.
  • Cedilla by Adam Mars-Jones – This is the second Faber entry for the Green Carnation so far and its HUGE (I am talking big books later) and one I am looking forward to as it’s the sequel to the rather marvellous ‘Pilcrow’ though I will be judging it as a stand alone book of course.

Phew that’s quite a few. Onto paperbacks which have been arriving thick and fast. I haven’t included the Jo Nesbo parcel which arrived and I mentioned before, nor have I included the two rather large shopping spree’s which I undertook in February both on a visit to Granny Savidge in Matlock and on a day out in Yorkshire earlier this month. Shame on me, still somehow I managed to buy a few in this lot too.

  • Through The Wall by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya – The lovely Novel Insights brought me this Penguin Mini Classic last week on a visit as she thought it would be right up my street. I have a feeling she will be spot on.
  • Heat & Dust by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala – A booker prize charity shop find for 50p. I have said I do intend to read all the winners at some point and have devoured this one so expect thoughts soon.
  • The Novel in the Viola by Natasha Solomons – I really enjoyed ‘Mr Rosenblum’s List’ when I read it last year and actually chattered and nattered to Natasha when she was working on this one so I know a bit about the plot and it sounded fascinating so I have everything crossed this will be a corker.
  • The Bride That Time Forgot by Paul Magrs – The latest Brenda and Effie adventure in paperback, again reminding me I am slightly behind with this series. I also have a spare so expect a give away at some point.
  • Where The Serpent Lives by Ruth Padel – I know nothing of this book but isn’t she the lady that caused a lot of controversy over something and nothing?
  • South Riding by Winifred Holtby – I have devoured this one and my thoughts on it are here.
  • The Surrendered by Chang-Rae Lee – Another book I know nothing about but having read the quotes and page 29 (all the blurb says is ‘read page 29’) this looks like it could be an astounding book.
  • Slammerkin by Emma Donoghue – As you will all know I loved ‘Room’ and this is a reissued copy of her earlier historical novel (I am hoping it’s a Victorian romp) which I am excited about. I have already got an American edition of this which I am now handing over to Granny Savidge Reads who, after reading ‘Room’, is a Donoghue fan too.
  • The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund De Waal – I so wasn’t bothered about this when it came out but since winning the Costa Prize and having heard about it all over the place when it arrived I was super chuffed and have started dipping into it already.
  • The Magnificent Spilsbury and the Case of the Brides in the Bath by Jane Robins – I do like true historical crime, modern stuff makes me feel uncomfortable in general – too close to home maybe, but this sounds like its right up my street. Maybe not one to read in the bath though?
  • 31 Bond Street by Ellen Horan – I bought this in Sainsbury’s, bad me, partly because the cover is so good and also thinking it was non-fiction from the blurb, wrong. I will give it a whirl though and see.
  • Half a Life by Darin Strauss – A memoir about accidental murder. I had to sign a confidence clause before I could get the proof for this and then forgot the date had been and gone so will schedule my thoughts to be shared soon.
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy – I have already read this, however it’s a book group choice in the next few months and I’d had mine signed for my Gran so a new one has magically turned up. I am actually really looking forward to re-reading this one even so soon after I originally did.
  • Dog Binary by Alex MacDonald – I don’t know anything about this, it came with Half a Life.
  • Trick of the Dark by Val McDermid – I am hoping this is another entry for the Green Carnation Prize as we do want a mixture of genres, I don’t think the other judges have had this one though so I will have to check. I have heard McDermid is very good at murder so this should be good.

So lots of books to read while I am in waiting rooms, hospital wards and in bed when I get home over the next few weeks or so which is an utter delight. I wonder how much of a dent in them I will make. I also really need to have a fresh cull and clear out too. It never stops. Have you read any of these books and if so what did you think? Any you would like to see me give priority to if the whim takes me?


Filed under Book Thoughts