Notes to Self
by Emilie Pine
Reviewed by: Tom Muckian
Even before it’s recent wins in the Irish Book Awards and the Butler Literary Prize, Emile Pines’s Notes to Self, came to this reader weighted with serious expectations . Almost overwhelmingly positive reviews, and a book wrapped up in yet another exquisite Tramp Press production. And yes, Notes to Self is certainly well written…but, on finishing it, I couldn’t help thinking, is that it?
Notes to Self is a memoir of sorts, written in six essays. It opens strongly with Notes on Intemperance. Anyone who has ever had to visit a seriously ill, loved one in hospital will empathise, as Pine travels, in a state of near panic to her dying father’s bedside in Greece. Her terror increases as she tries desperately to get information from the medical staff, in a foreign country where she doesn’t speak the language. Her sense of dread, anxiety and frustration are palpable. After a few days, her father’s condition stabilises and she returns home to Dublin only to receive a call demanding her return as he relapses. You can almost feel the, mental, emotional and physical exhaustion.
This first piece is by far the strongest of the essays. Thereafter we get a forensic examination of Pine’s life. The troubled childhood caused by the breakup of her parents marriage, her wild teenage years, her career, attempts to start a family and careering close to a nervous breakdown due to the pressure of work.
I wasn’t aware of Emile Pine before reading this book and Notes to Self is certainly not a celebrity biography. And maybe that’s part of the problem. Her life and experiences are all very normal. There’s nothing revelatory here, no great insights, just personal ones in what amounts to a very intimate, forensic self examination. I found myself wondering who this book was aimed at. It occurred to me that a fictionalised account written as a novel would have worked better. Pine can certainly write. As a series of biographical essays it felt uncomfortably intrusive at times. It’s one thing to feel brave enough to publish such a personal body of work but I did wonder about her friends and family. How did they feel about being portrayed such a fashion?
It may well be that Notes to Self is, as wonderful a book as the awards and reviews would have us believe, but I really didn’t get it. As it continues to garner rave reviews and awards I wonder if I should read it again to see if I missed something. Or maybe not, a clean break is probably best……we’re just not meant for each other, honestly it’s not you, it’s me.