Velocity: A Memoir by Mandy Sayer

‘I was conceived in May 1962, roughly an hour after my father swallowed a block of hash at a party of jazz musicians.’

Mandy Sayer was born in 1963, and this is a memoir of her life up until the time she travelled to America with her father, Gerry Sayer. That part of her life is covered in her first memoir, ‘Dreamtime Alice’, which I have not yet read.

This is a difficult memoir to read, not because of the writing, which is excellent, but because of the content. Gerry and Betty, Mandy’s parents, lived a life largely unfettered by usual societal restraints.  Gerry pursued his dream as a jazz drummer, while Betty retreated into alcohol when it became clear that her dreams would not be realised. The youngest of three surviving children born to Gerry and Betty, Mandy learned how to accept, observe, and survive.

The marriage Betty wanted (but Gerry did not) failed. Mandy stayed with her mother, changed school frequently, watches hr mother fall into and out of unsatisfying and often violent relationships, and lives through three of her mother’s suicide attempts. But the worst of it is Betty’s relationship with Hakkim: a violent, paranoid younger man who makes their lives an utter misery. Betty has a child with Hakkim, and life becomes even more complicated.

Ms Sayer is a child through the events she describes, and much of her description is that matter of fact way in which children describe what has happened without the filters imposed by age and awareness. It makes for heartbreaking reading (for me, reading as an adult and parent) but it demonstrates resilience.

I found this a moving account, filled with both joy and pain, a struggle against daunting challenges, and will seek out Ms Sayer’s other memoirs: ‘Dreamtime Alice’ and ‘The Poet’s Wife’.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith