I BELONG TO NO ONE | GWEN WILSON | BOOK REVIEW

Kernel Fiona reviews I BELONG TO NO ONE – a harrowing biographical memoir from Australian author Gwen Wilson. She didn’t start writing her memoir until her 50s and is self-educated and a woman who lived through a lot of hell to come out on the other side. Set in Western Sydney in the 70s this shows one of the more darker sides of Australia in the 70s. I BELONG TO NO ONE is released from Hachette Australia and should be available from all bookstores or you can obtain it HERE. Hope you enjoy Fiona’s thoughts on the book……..all the best………JK.

BY FIONA FYFE

Set largely in the 1970’s during the writer’s turbulent teenage years, Wilson’s memoir is an insight into the grim side of poverty and what it means to be raised by someone with a mental illness. Sydney in the 70’s was not very accepting of unmarried mothers, couples living together or those collecting welfare. It didn’t take much to be viewed as an outcast or a social leper.

From a young age, Wilson is raised by the women on her street. Her mum’s friend and neighbour, Mrs Kulpie, her maternal aunt, Myra, and a cast of other women, usually the mothers of school friends. Her own mother is distrusting of strangers, new technology such as modern washing machines and slowly becomes incapable of holding down a job. Although Wilson has an older brother, Steven, he is ill-equipped to raise a rambunctious young girl who isn’t used to boundaries.

There is no regular father in the sibling’s lives. The concept of father is a shadowy one and it becomes apparent that their mother has gone to great lengths to keep the children’s heritage a secret. This doesn’t stop her creating a fanciful tale of a deceased war hero, someone to live on in their memories despite never having a relationship with his children.

Wilson’s story reads like a cosy, fire-side chat. It is as if she has taken the reader into her confidence, drawn them close and is telling us things she has never told another soul. In this way it is easy to feel empathy for her and her unfortunate beginnings. It also means that her style is engaging and easy to read. In other ways, however, I grappled with the writer’s motivations. I tried valiantly to understand the era that Wilson was living in and why she made certain choices given her mother’s ever burgeoning psychiatric condition and the lack of stability in her young life. In the end though, I found that I had run out of excuses.

 

I BELONG TO NO ONE BOOK COVER IMAGE
I BELONG TO NO ONE | SALTY POPCORN BOOK REVIEW | BOOK COVER IMAGE

 

As someone who grew up with a mother who suffered from mental illness, I too initially assumed that her behavior was normal and that we were like all the other families at school. In my teenage years I went to great lengths to not only create a veneer of normalcy, but to claw my way out of that home life and forge a successful life of my own. My own story is paved with mistakes and wrong turns but I would like to think that I have made it despite my childhood. This is not to judge the writer but as a mother myself, I really struggled with the reasons that Wilson propounded for her eventual decision. As a survivor of a less than ideal upbringing, I made it my mission to not be like my mother and to protect my son at all costs.

Inevitably many readers will be able to identify with the domestic violence that plagued Wilson as well as her thought processes every time she was confronted with yet another disappointing or controlling male. For my own part I was also able to relate to some of her less than healthy relationship experiences and to understand her dysfunctionality. Most notably, readers that were victims of the enforced adoption policy of the 60’s and 70’s will perhaps find something of a kindred spirit in Wilson.

Significantly, Wilson makes mention of Julia Gillard’s comments in Federal Parliament in 2013, when she was still Prime Minister : “Today, this Parliament, on behalf of the Australian people, takes responsibility and apologises for the policies…that forced the separation of mothers from their babies, which created a lifelong legacy of pain and suffering…”

There is no doubt that the myopic views surrounding children born out of wedlock or children born to Aboriginal mothers was not only bigoted and blinkered, but in so many ways a cruel and unusual punishment. No amount of “sorry” or monetary compensation can ever undo the terrible damage that was visited upon these families.

Tragically, so many women and young girls were not afforded an opportunity to keep their children. For those that managed to evade these parochial policies, I can’t help feeling that they carried a great responsibility to give it their level best. To really make a go of it in honour of all those women who never got the chance.

Certainly my own background as a legal aid lawyer has coloured my views and yes I might be jaded, but I found there was an emptiness to Wilson’s justifications and after a while my sympathy train derailed. As I alight from my soap box I can already hear the lynch mob approaching. If nothing else, the book held my interest and unquestionably raises a myriad of issues for reader discussion.

 

3 Pops

 

Kernel Fiona was a criminal defence lawyer in a former life and now critiques books and writes short stories. She can’t resist spending large tracts of time in libraries, book shops and at writer’s festivals. Hopelessly in love with the written word, she told JK when applying for a writing position that “I would rather read then breathe” – I knew I had my next reviewer right then.