“I want to hang out in the shadow cast by it, to take it all in”

BY CHANCE CZYZSELSKA

There’s a line early on in Juno Roche’s memoir that is so achingly exquisite that I want to hang out in the shadow cast by it, to take it all in. A contemplative resting place. Which is weird because the line – which details the author’s experience of sex with a former lover – describes with painful acuity the complexity of physical intimacy when a body has known childhood violence and a lifetime of structural indignities and diminishments. I read the line over and over again and the subsequent lines that take the reader through this scene, their post-sex conversation, their disarming self-reflection, and I wonder if its power lies in the characteristically unflinching way Roche describes this inward withdrawal as an attempt to find safety and comfort deep within themselves.

It’s this generous sharing of vulnerability, this combination of personal insight, searing honesty, deep intellect and masterful and cinematic prose which guides us through episodes in their life: from growing up in a home where the word love lived uncomfortably alongside fists, blood and prescription drugs; through school, where they developed their love of books and imagined escaping like the tiny Borrower people, on leaves to a different life, to art school and an HIV diagnosis, through deeply meaningful relationships, addiction and sex work, to trying to give up heroin in an Elizabeth Tayloresque hotel on the banks of the Nile in Egypt, to the life they live today in a tiny village in Spain nestled among mountain peaks bathed in warm Mediterranean hues. From their beautiful home – emblematic both of their commitment to themselves, and to their artistry – with their family of dogs, an ancient olive tree and lovingly-tended roses and wisteria, and in this resolutely working-class, anti-capitalist, feminist, trans and queer memoir, Roche effortlessly weaves in references to artists like Louise Bourgeois, Marcel Duchamp, Jeff Koons and Georgia O’Keefe, who like them escaped to arid lands to create her most enduring works of art.

I haven’t yet mentioned the wickedly dry sense of humour that punctuates their prose too, perfectly paced amidst and between some of the more difficult passages, like dappled sunlight. Roche stands out as a memoirist of the highest calibre with a voice that teaches us how to live with emotional intelligence, wit and vigour, a voice that is sorely needed in this moment.

A Working Class Family Ages Badly by Juno Roche

Dialogue Books, £18.99

Audiobook narrated by Joelle Taylor

Audible, £21.99 or 1 credit

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