The Boston Globe recently carried a review of Isabel Allende’s newest book, The Sum of Our Days, in which Allende carries on (and on) about the death of her beloved daughter Paula, the subject of her previous book. Reviewer Debra Bruno carefully contemplates whether the grieving mother shares too much about herself and her remaining (living) family and wonders what the family thinks about their overexposure to the world and their mother revealing her own sometimes embarassingly overbearing ways. Bruno says, “The more colorful details Allende offers up [about herself and her living children] … the less appealing she seems.”
Meanwhile, Britain is abuzz about Carole Thatcher’s memoir, A Swim-On Part in the Goldfish Bowl, regarding her mother, Margaret Thatcher, whom she reveals is deep in the throes of dementia. The Daily Mail, a British paper, has published excerpts from the book which will be released in September. Readers have been both appalled at the gall of the daughter to expose The Iron Lady’s personal struggles especially while she is yet alive, and sympathetic as so many families deal with this dreaded problem that tends to be hidden under the rug of embarassment. Similar to a celebrity coming out about alcohol or drug rehab or depression, usually with the thought of helping others by bringing to light what many choose to keep in darkness, the sticking point is that the daughter is outing the mother without her permission. Therein lies the rub – even though Carole writes with compassion and her mother may not understand or remember that she wrote about her personal horror, Mrs. Thatcher deserves to be treated with dignity and respect and not have her private tragedy exposed to all.
Until now, Mrs. Thatcher’s dementia has been kept on the quiet. Perhaps Carole should have waited until her mother’s passing to detail the tragic downfall of this strong, intelligent woman who made a big mark on the world. As Charles Powell, former private secretary to Thatcher says, “…she still leads a very active life…it doesn’t stop her from taking a very active interest in the world.”
Both Allende and Thatcher may be guilty of telling too much; instead of bonding with the authors as they spill their stories of woe, readers may feel put off by the overexposure, the baring of unfortunate details about others who seem to have no say about it. While some may relate sympathetically to these books, there are many who will question the morals of authors who overstep boundaries of respect for others, and hence their own selves.