Monday, 2 January 2017

Shockoholic by Carrie Fisher

This post comes in memory of Carrie Fisher, who sadly passed on December 27th 2016. This book was chosen as my first read of 2017 in respect and admiration of this strong and powerful woman.

I grew up watching Star Wars. Those films are the first ones I remember having any significant impact on my life. My father and step-mother are two of the biggest geeks I know and so, they instilled that in me. Princess Leia was my first icon. I remember putting my hair in two buns growing up and thinking I was so cool. Seeing Leia on screen, the only female amongst many male heroes, she stood out to me as the feisty and strong woman who I could perhaps become.

It wasn't until years later, when I was in my late teens, suffering my own mental health issues, that I discovered Carrie Fisher. Now, of course I knew that Leia was a character, and I knew that she was played by Carrie, but by discovering her, I mean I learned about her background. I learned about her drug and alcohol abuse. I learned about her own struggles with bipolar disorder, and I learned she was an intelligent, creative and witty individual. And so very strong. She became a symbol to me, of someone who had been through all these trials and come out the other side.

Add this to my admiration of Leia, and I had a role model to look up to.

When I heard of Carrie's heart attack, I had just returned from seeing Rogue One in the cinema with my family, after which I watched her interview on The Graham Norton Show that my father had recorded for me. I had retreated to bed and, after doing my nightly Facebook scroll... what was this? I could scarcely believe it. I hoped and prayed for her swift recovery.

When I heard  of Carrie's passing, I was on the train home from visiting my family for Christmas. I barely kept it together. Tears filled my eyes and there was a pain in my chest that sting pangs whenever I remember that Carrie is no longer with us. I saw all the memes and heartfelt messages left by those who knew her and those whose lives she touched and I smiled through the tears. And then, I see the obituary she wrote for herself in Wishful Drinking, 'drowned in moonlight, strangled by her own bra' and I laugh at the wit and humour that for so many was so special about Carrie. Perhaps selfishly, I wonder about what this means for Star Wars IX.

Carrie's books were the only ones on my Christmas wishlist this year. Usually I have a long list of new releases and recommendations from friends that I want to received. This year, hers were the only ones I wanted to read. To hear her own words. I didn't get them, but as I quickly went to Amazon to rectify that, I was both disheartened (for myself) and delighted to find that they were all sold out.

That night I came home and had my own Christmas with Fraser. Over the last year we had both been more that a little obsessed with Star Wars and so the majority of his gifts were of that ilk. An annual that we flicked through and found pictures of Carrie as Leia; a chess set of vintage carved Star Wars characters, Leia carefully positioned next to Han. It raised the emotions in us.

I spent the next few days checking to see if anywhere had her books in stock, but nowhere did. Then I realised that I had an audible credit, and the books were all narrated by her! So I decided to download one. I had ordered The Princess Diarist (her latest release) a few days after her passing. Wishful Drinking was the cheapest on audible and so I decided to go with perhaps her least well known memoir, Shockoholic, a book that focuses on her experience of Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT, more commonly known as Shock Therapy), and some shocking stories pertaining to herself, her family and, perhaps most crudely, Michael Jackson. As 2016 turned to 2017, I stayed up late, preparing to listen to the audibook whilst I ran the final twitter sprint of the Holiday Booktubeathon (thank you again for inviting me, Ariel!). As January 1st came to a close, I completed the book.

Here are some thoughts I have about Shockoholic:

1. Carrie's wit and humour continues in text as it does on camera. I suppose that means the same could be true of her in reality. She does not give a flying monkey about what people think of her, or what she has to say. Her stories are often crude, shocking and her language foul- but that's what people love about her!

2. Though the narrative is completely disjointed, which seems to be one of the main criticisms of the book, for me it worked. Carrie's life has been chaotic and difficult. It is only right that the stories she tell reflect this. It also keeps you on your toes- you never know what story she will tell you next. Going quickly from a story about her Dentist's accusations about Michael Jackson, to her recreative drug use with her father, it is interested and random.

3. There is something wonderful about audiobooks- particularly memoirs- where the author reads their own work. Listening to Carrie's words through Carrie's voice is both soothing and hilarious. The inflections and the punchlines are delivered with such precision, there were several times I laughed out loud of gasped. I was enthralled by this familiar voice tell such dismal and emphatic tales.

4. I was expected much more about her treatment for mental health, and therefore more about her struggles with mental health. However, I am sure that this is covered more in other books by her. With such an array, I'm confident there'll be more in Wishful Drinking and even the semi-autobiographical novel, Postcards from the Edge, to satiate that desire.

5. Hearing Carrie discuss the mortality of celebrity, how we feel when celebrities die, and how she things she will be remembered was such a poignant part of the book that it was surreal to think I was learning about it so soon after her own death. I kind of cried, though not a sobbing, wailing cry, but more the cry where a single tear rolls down your face.

This gave me a real taste for Carrie's writing and I will definitely be reading/listening to many more of her works from now on.

Recently I have become interested in learning  more about alcoholism, drug addiction and mental health, and so in 2017 I made it a goal to read more non-fiction books about people who had been through these things. I am very glad to have started with this one. I had intended to read it as part of a small book club I had organised, but I couldn't wait to get into it, and so I will be endeavouring to make Wishful Drinking the Carrie book I read for this.

It is always important to remember that there is a person behind the addiction. Since her death, Carrie has been vilified for her past, with many opting to criticise her in her passing, rather than celebrate her. Those that talk of addiction and mental health as something someone brought upon themselves don't understand these struggles, and it is imperative that these misconceptions and cruel prejudices are overcome. I am sure that Carrie's influence and work as an advocate and campaigner for mental health and addiction will certainly be prevalent in coming months, and that perhaps there can be some more understanding amongst our communities.

If you are a Carrie Fisher fan, I highly recommend Shockoholic. It was an interesting and surreal entrance to 2017 for me, but one that I can very much recommend. This book was, for me, a solid 4 star read.

Rest in peace, Carrie. May the force be with you. Always


Post a Comment