Today’s post is dedicated to the 22nd book I’ve read this year, Fallen, a memoir, by Rochelle Siemienowicz (HURRAH, that is the first time I’ve been able to spell Rochelle’s surname, without looking. And funnily enough, my spell check has offered ‘Microeconomics’ instead.)
I was always going to read this book, because: DISCLOSURE, I know Rochelle in real life. She is a new friend, someone I first met when The Big Issue published a story of mine a couple of years ago (by the way, they are calling for submissions for this year’s Fiction Edition, deadline is COB 1 June! They are especially keen to see shorter pieces.)
Rochelle is one of those people who has enormous amounts of personal charisma. She is beautiful, yes, but has depth and intelligence and warmth – the best of all possible combinations. She is a person who is both interesting and interested; in you, in your work, in your life. It is quite rare to find people who have both of these characteristics. Think about it. These are the people you are drawn to, love being around, and feel good knowing. People who are interesting and interested.
This book began its existence as a novel, a fictionalised treatment of Rochelle’s early life, after she discovered the pleasures of sex, left her church, married young, and found herself in an open marriage (not necessarily in that order). But the publisher, Aviva Tuffield, while falling in love with the story and the gorgeous prose (Rochelle is a very, very good writer), felt that it would be better published as a memoir. Cue: anguish and not a little personal wrangling; of emotions, of revisiting events almost twenty years old, but mostly about telling her parents, and how other people would react.
Fallen, a memoir (Affirm Press)
The back jacket reads:
In this frank, compelling and beautifully written memoir, Rochelle Siemienowicz provides an intimate portrait of the last days of an open marriage.
Raised as devout Seventh-day Adventists, she and her boyfriend marry young. Rebelling against their upbringing, and in an attempt to overcome problems in their relationship, they enter an agreement that has its own strict rules.
Fallen is a true tale of sex, love, religion and getting married too young – and what it feels like when you can’t keep the promises you once sincerely make.
Also on the jacket, Emily Maguire says: Fallen is an unsentimental, unsparing, surprisingly sweet tale of first love, first (and second and third …) lust and the messes we make when we’re old enough to know better but so very much younger than we realise.
This is a book that is candid. When I said that to another writer/reader last weekend, over afternoon tea, she said ‘what do you mean candid?’ I managed to explain what I meant, without using the word ‘brave’ – a word Rochelle believes equates to foolishness and stupidity in peoples’ minds. I said that Rochelle, in writing this book and in owning the protagonist Eve as a version of herself, is open and honest, and in the telling of the ending of her first marriage, puts her younger self as much under the heated lens as she does any of the other players in the drama. The characterisations are so good, they are real. Even the best of us have our darker sides, the qualities we or others wish might be different. But that’s what gives us our texture, our individuality. In writing this book, Rochelle is blunt and she is direct. She reveals her doubts and weaknesses, writes of the times when she was selfish, lustful, deceitful and hurtful to others, all the while trying to work out what it was she wanted from her life. We only have one life and I believe it needs to be honoured. This means living it in a way that is authentic and true. Sometimes this means hurting others, or disappointing them, or not living up to their expectations.
It is this that I admire so much about this book. It’s not easy to work out who we are and what we want, even when society and our friends and family approve of us. But to go against convention and expectations and reveal yourself and risk the censure of others, it does take courage, it is risky and it is dangerous. Anyone who takes a calculated step towards risk for reasons that they don’t need to justify to anyone else, is courageous in my view. Maybe others would call Rochelle brave, and then whisper inside of themselves: foolish, ill-advised and that has to be okay, people have to be allowed their own responses. But as a fellow risk-taker, and admirer of people who swim against the tide, of those who push against the norm, especially women, and particularly when it comes to matters of sexuality (women are meant to behave, comply, be quiet, not cause trouble, and certainly not strike out along their own paths) I salute Rochelle. I say brava!
And the writing is glorious. I’ll admit that while there was a certain prurient salaciousness to my interest (come on, this is someone I’ve met, and there’s someone else in the book I’ve met too), and that books about sex are not my usual go-to topic for reading, I enjoyed reading this book in its entirety, for the insights it’s given me into this woman I’ve met, and to how differently we all can live our lives. It’s a fantastic debut and I will wait patiently for Rochelle’s next. I would love a novel but whatever comes from the pen of this woman will be a treat.