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In the vein of the Costa-winning Dadland, with the biographical elements of H is for Hawk and The Lonely City, The Fragments of my Father is a powerful and poignant memoir about parents and children, freedom and responsibility, madness and creativity and what it means to be a carer.
My life had been suspended, as though I had inhaled and was still waiting to let out that gasp of breath. I set aside my dreams for a future time when life might be normal again. But that night, on my mother’s birthday, as I sat and watched the sky turn from blue to black, I wondered for the first time if it ever would …
There were holes in Sam Mills’s life when she was growing up – times when her dad was just absent, for reasons she didn’t understand. As she grew older, she began to make up stories about the periods when he wasn’t around: that he’d been abducted, spirited away and held captive by a mysterious tribe who lived at the bottom of the garden. The truth – that he suffers from a rare form of paranoid schizophrenia, and was hospitalised intermittently – slowly came into focus, and that focus became pin-sharp in 2012, when Sam’s mother died and Sam was left as his primary carer.
In this powerful, pognant memoir Sam triangulates her own experience with the stories of two other carers, one she admires and one, on some days, she fears she might become: Leonard Woolf, husband to Virginia and F Scott Fitzgerald, husband to Zelda, and a man whose personality made him ill-equipped – in a great many ways – to be a carer for his troubled wife.
A mesmerising blend of literary biography and memoir The Fragments of My Father is a compelling and moving account of what it means to be a carer.
It is about how hard it can become to sustain relationships, to keep promises and to construct the story of your own life when someone else is relying entirely on you for their wellbeing. But it’s also a testament to the surprising and precious consolation that can come from caring for another person, and of seeing the individual behind the illness.