Two thirds of the way into Lyndall Gordon’s part memoir, part maternal biography, there is an episode of profound risk to the self. At the age of twenty-four, having recently moved from Cape Town to New York, Gordon is being treated for post-partum depression. This is 1966. Electro-convulsive therapy seems not to have helped, and her psychiatrist is urging longer-term treatment in an asylum in order to turn her – so it seems to Gordon – into the self-sacrificing wife and mother her own mother had wished her to be. Her husband, who has hitherto supported Dr Kay, makes a sudden turn. ‘Do something with your life … I’ve always thought you could write biography.’
The biographer and her mother as secret sharers
DIVIDED LIVES: DREAMS OF A MOTHER AND DAUGHTER
Virago, $35 pb, 328 pp, 9781844088904
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Dorothy Driver is Professor of English at the University of Adelaide.
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