I will admit that Sydney Smith is actually a New Zealand writer. However, as she currently lives in Melbourne, I’ve decided that I can review her recently published memoir The Lost Woman.

This novel is a heart-wrenching read. Smith candidly recounts her childhood growing up in Wellington, and the complex relationships she had with her mother, father and three brothers. The emotional games her mother played with her and the subsequent person Smith became in her late teens and early twenties is hard to comprehend. There is a young girl in this novel with so much potential, so much heart, so much intelligence, who fails to grow into herself due to her mother’s deliberate stunting of her growth. Smith recounts all these little incidents which illustrate the dangerous connections she held with her mother. Isolated, these moments seem nothing more than a little harmless (or sometimes, not so harmless) fun, but as Smith builds these memories together like Lego bricks, it becomes clear that something is terribly wrong.

I struggled to get into this book in the beginning, although I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was because the book started with these little incidents, and it took a little while to build momentum and get into the rhythm of the memoir. But while the first fifty pages were a struggle, from there the story flowed and I was transfixed by Smith’s journey. Her childhood is one so far removed from my own, and I found myself feeling this young woman’s pain as there are things she desperately wants, and desperately needs, not only materialistically, but for her well-being too, which seem impossible for her to gain. In the end, she finally manages to free herself, but it is not without struggle, nor without years of being stuck and not sure which way to turn, which move to make.

Smith’s writing draws the reader in, slowly at first, and then faster and faster, and before the reader knows it they are trapped under her spell. Despite the heartache in this novel, the story is ultimately one of survival and finding that elusive freedom, of growing up and becoming the person you always knew you could become, even if you didn’t always know how.

Text Publishing, 2012

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