Monday, September 28, 2015

This is Happy by Camilla Gibb

For a while there I thought I'd lost interest in reading, but I think I just hadn't happened upon the right book - because I raced through this one in a couple of days.

The book is a memoir by Canadian author, Camilla Gibb.  I had read one of her novels years ago (Sweetness in the Belly) and now that I have seen her struggles up close I would like to read more.

Gibb was born to English parents who emigrated to Canada when she and her brother we small children.  Her father suffered from mental illness and alcoholism which led to the breakdown of the marriage and a generally unhappy childhood for Gibb.  She did describe two happy years when her mother had a younger partner, Ara, an Armenian actor.  This relationship breaks up for reasons that are never disclosed to Gibb (despite her attempts at finding out from both of them when she is an adult).  Though life was difficult for Gibb, it was worse for her brother who was sent to live with his father in dire conditions for a lengthy period - he eventually escapes to drugs which creates a life long addiction problem.

Gibb is also unlucky in love - left by several men at a young age or just meeting the wrong guy at the wrong time.  She studies anthropology at Oxford and the stress and isolation there lead to her own mental illness diagnosis.  As part of her field studies she spends time living with a traditional family in Ethiopia and there she does fine without any anti-depressants but struggles again when back at Oxford so finally returns to Canada.  As an aside, her descriptions of life in the women's section of a family home in a small village in Ethiopia were fascinating - and obviously provided significant content for Sweetness in the Belly).

She is helped in her writing career by a stranger she meets in a park who gives her $6000 with no strings attached so she can leave her more stable career and begin to write.  I thought this was an interesting piece fortune for a woman who so frequently met with misfortune.

The meat of Gibb's story is her almost 10 year marriage to Anna which ends when Gibb is pregnant with a daughter they decided to conceive together.  This also leads Gibb to the depths of despair though she abandons thoughts of suicide for the baby she carries.  We then see how, once the baby is born, she rebuilds her family.  She develops a better relationship with her mother (who she now understands better as a single mother herself) and step-father, an on again off again relationship with her brother and a family she makes on her own with a woman who begins as her nanny but who, together with her husband and eventual baby, become more like family and other friends she meets along the way.  It is with this group that she finally comes to the title realization that "this is happy".

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