By Yrsa Daley-Ward
The Terrible shows us the artist as a radical surgeon of her own life.
We begin with Yrsa Daley-Ward’s childhood in Chorley, a small Lancashire town that used to hold a chess congress each August. There she lives with her mother, a nurse, and a younger brother called Roo; an older brother, Samson, away in the army, returns intermittently. For a period she moves to her grandparents’ home – they are strict Christians – before returning to live with her mother and brother, where a succession of step-fathers come and go. It is a life in flux.
What is constant in Yrsa’s life, you glean, here and later, is an undertow of anxiety which flares up at certain moments. There is a suggestion of dysfunction, perhaps an eating disorder or depression. Intensity goes up several notches come puberty: an awakening of desire and fear and empowerment, an awareness of her beauty as a girl, and a black girl at that, race as indelible to identity as gender (and the two somehow conjoined, sharing a heart).
After school Yrsa goes on the road as a singer, with an older boyfriend her manager. Then an office job in Manchester, partying at nights. Moving to London, getting by as a party girl, sometime dominatrix. Writing, getting published. In all of this, you glean, there are moments of breakdown yet resilience too. She keeps coming through.
The Terrible is an episodic, fragmentary memoir marked by scrupulous honesty and cool compassion and vivid portraits of the people in her life, whether family and friends or just people, like Angela, a fellow night club worker. Daley-Ward wields her scalpel and cuts clean, which is not say that there is an absence of blood. In every successful operation, expect blood.
The publisher’s description of this terrible but terrific book is here.