- Navigating Loss in Women's Contemporary Memoir by Amy-Katerini Prodromou
In Navigating Loss in Women's Contemporary Memoir, Amy-Katerini Prodromou critically analyzes first-person narratives that challenge traditional paradigms of loss and recovery. Theoretical and professional models, she convincingly argues, do not adequately capture the complex and multilayered experience of bereavement. Complementary, or even corrective, to the existing paradigms, the memoirs in Prodromou's study expand our understanding of loss and grief in fundamental ways. They show that recovery is ambiguous at best, loss is never fully recoverable, and adaptation, rather than acceptance, marks the experience of living in the aftermath of loss.
Grief memoirs, Prodromou points out, lend themselves to being explored for what they reveal about the lived experience of bereavement because they "are tied to the real" and conform to Philippe Lejeune's pact between reader and writer (34). She refers to the texts in her study as "memoirs of textured recovery" and suggests that they form a subgenre of the grief memoir that is especially illuminative of loss and recovery. Unlike other modern and contemporary narratives of loss, they present the experience of bereavement as [End Page 382] ambiguous, shifting, and complex. Memoirs of textured recovery capture loss "in all its experiential textures" and offer "an alternative to more traditional compensatory paradigms" by blurring the presumably clear distinction between fiction and nonfiction, recalled and factual past, subjective and objective truth (41). All these ambiguities, never quite resolved by any of the texts Prodromou reads, signal nuances of grief that have not been sufficiently theorized.
As Prodromou aims to understand better the gendered aspect of bereavement, she focuses exclusively on women's memoirs "published roughly within the decade spanning the turn of the twenty-first century" (4). The earliest one is Lucy Grealy's Autobiography of a Face, published in 1994, and Hillary Mantel's Giving Up the Ghost, published in 2003, is the most recent. Like the narratives themselves, the thematic range of the texts Prodromou selects for her study broaden traditional understanding of loss and grief: Grealy's and Mantel's are illness memoirs; Mary Gordon's The Shadow Man and Circling My Mother are memoirs of parental loss; Inga Clendinnen's Tiger Eye, Kim Mahood's Craft for a Dry Lake, and Judith Barrington's Lifesaving are about the loss of childhood; and Jenny Diski's Skating for Antarctica engages all three thematic threads. The selection of texts effectively supports Prodromou's key arguments, while the formal organization of Navigating Loss—each chapter considers a different aspect of grief and offers a close reading of one or two primary texts that best illustrate its nuances—allows for a coherent presentation of the author's theory of textured recovery.
By portraying grief as a process that does not come to an end, memoirs of textured recovery challenge the model of grief that Sigmund Freud put forward in his influential 1917 essay, "Mourning and Melancholia." In the narratives Prodromou chooses, acceptance and closure are never achieved. The new wave theories of the 1990s, she argues, do not account for the full complexity of textured recovery either, even as they emphasize grief's openendedness and complexity. A counterpoint to Freud's linear and finite model of mourning, new wave theories still leave out aspects of bereavement that memoirs of textured recovery show to be an integral part of experiencing loss. Not contained by either theoretical approach, the critical reading of memoirs of textured recovery calls for "more complicated theories of mourning which can accommodate an understanding of grief not in terms of Freud's absolute recovery nor Tennyson's 'loss forever new'" but instead in terms of "a space located somewhere in between" (4). To transcend the limitations of existing theories, Prodromou adopts "a kind of theoretical prism" that allows her new insight into grief and its literary representations (128). This multilayered [End Page 383] approach "champions complexity" as it demonstrates the inherent ambiguity of loss and the evolving intricacy of grief itself (18).
In addition to resisting the narrative...