Book Review: Jessie Cole || Staying, A Memoir


I'm interviewing Jessie Cole for an 'In Conversation with..' event about her new book Staying, A Memoir. This is one of those beautiful moments where I may never have come across this work except for the invitation to interview. And i'm so glad I did, as it is an extraordinary work of courage, vulnerability and resilience, written with a lyrical matter of factness that allows the pain to stand alone, facing the reader.

Jessie Cole grew up in Northern NSW in what was an idyllic wild childhood with her brother, half sisters and parents, until the suicide of her sister began a profound and tragic unravelling in their family across decades. What hold this story apart is the solidness of the relationship between author and location. That too suffers from the stress and distress of grief, but unlike many of the other relationships, holds firm.

In many ways this is a story of our cultural inability to deal with death in any of the forms it takes, and how that is the real instrument of creating suffering, isolation, shame and fear for those who are left behind. Why are we so bad at talking about death, supporting each other through loss, and finding ways to allow the stories that need to be told to be shared and released from the stifling confines of the mind and body? 

My father died when I was 14. Like Jess in this story, my brother and I went to school that day, and in some strange act of normalisation I walked through the day, not knowing how to re-adjust as the person who now had no father, and how to even have that discussion amongst the trivia of the playground. I didn't really even begin to look at what that silence had created until a decade of escapism and running away lead me back to having to face my own sorrow. 

Perhaps this is why I leaned into this book so hard, smashing through it in a one sitting, often forgetting at times is was memoir, and having to remind myself these weren't characters in a book, they were people in a life, a real life, and one that they are all still navigating. For Jessie, the act of writing teased out the remote world of anxiety and solitude she was inhabiting, therapy and the page becoming the conduit to beginning to process the grief and guilt of death of loved ones, and the recalibration of time and space for those left behind.

I can't wait to meet Jessie and have the honour of being in conversation. If you are in Hobart and want to come along, the details are here

Polly McGee