It's 1965, and in Primrose Hill, North London, a beautiful young woman has just gassed herself to death, leaving behind a suicide note, two small children, and an about-to-be-published manuscript: The Captive Wife.
Like Sylvia Plath, who died in eerily similar circumstances two years earlier just two streets away, Hannah Gavron was a writer. But no one had ever imagined that she might take her own life.
Bright, sophisticated, and swept up in the progressive politics of the 1960s, Hannah was a promising academic and the wife of a rising entrepreneur. Surrounded by success, she seemed to live a gilded life. But there was another side to Hannah, as Jeremy Gavron's searching memoir of his mother reveals.
Piecing together the events that led to his mother's suicide when he was just four, he discovers that Hannah's success came at a price and that the pressures she faced as she carved out her place in a man's world may have contributed to her death.
Searching for the mother who was never talked about as he grew up, he discovers letters, diaries, and photos that paint a picture of a brilliant but complex young woman grappling to find an outlet for her creativity, sexuality, and intelligence.
A Woman on the Edge of Time not only documents the too-short life of an extraordinary woman; it is a searching examination of the suffocating constrictions in place on intelligent, ambitious women in the middle of the 20th century.
"Gavron has written a book as brave and honest as it is heart-stopping and gripping. With the meticulousness of a detective and the heart and soul of an abandoned son, he sets out to examine a family tragedy so raw and agonising that it is rarely talked, let alone written, about. I felt for him - and every man, woman and child in this book - whilst at the same time finding myself unable to put it down.... But if authors can’t write about the mysteries closest to their hearts, then what point is there, really, in memoir?" (Julie Myerson)
"A Woman on the Edge of Time possesses all the signature verve, imagination and elegance of Gavron's writing but he brings to this, the story of his mother's suicide when he was four years old, a particular burning, restless intelligence. The result is a memoir of devastating, heartbreaking power: I had to put my life on hold to finish it." (Maggie O'Farrell)
"I'm quite overwhelmed by the artistry of this memoir/detective story/sociological study. It is in essence a reconstruction of his mother's life - but it's not only about his mother, and what drove her to kill herself at twenty-nine. It is about so much more. About women - vibrant, ambitious, intelligent women, who came of age in the 50s in that precarious post-war decade before feminism took hold. It is a beautifully written and remarkably honest book that many women will identify with - what it means to try to have it all, while society does nothing to support you. I found it deeply moving, insightful, and gripping." (Esther Freud)
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The woman who lit lamps
- Rachel Redford