I realised writing a review for Becoming by Laura Jane Williams* wasn’t going to be easy very early on when reading it. I have had such an emotional reaction to this book, writing the kind of review you may be used to on my book blog Once Upon a Bookcase just isn’t going to cut it. So, instead, this is part review, part love letter to Williams, and part a post about me and my hurts. (This is pretty long. You have been warned.)
It’s difficult for me to find the words to explain how much Becoming meant to me. I’m a huge fan of your blog Superlatively Rude, and admire you so much as a writer, so Becoming was always on my wishlist – to read more of your words, to hear more of your story. But it ended up affecting me on such a deeply emotional level. You’ve changed the way I think, you’ve made me want to be braver, and you’ve made me face and accept parts of myself I had always turned away from and ignored.
When I first picked Becoming up, I was startled by the writing style. Reading your blog, I knew you were an incredible writer already, but reading Becoming, at first, felt like reading a novel. A story; an entertaining tale of heartbreak. I had to keep reminding myself that this it wasn’t a story, that this is your life, and marvel at how wonderfully you crafted your life into such beautiful prose. It was stunning and upsetting – and then even more so when I would remember, this actually happened.
And then, the day after starting Becoming, I met you at the launch of Man Up by Jack Urwin. I was feeling nervous and socially anxious; people had noticed I was alone, and it made me uncomfortable. I was trying to be inconspicious, looking down at my hands, when suddenly I realised someone was standing by me. I looked up, and it was you. You recognised me from Twitter, and had come over to say hello. I was flustered and internally fangirling – and overwhelmed at being recognised by Laura Jane Williams – but trying to seem normal and failing. You were lovely, gave me a hug, and we had a quick chat. What struck me was how normal you were; so laid back and down to earth, talking to me like I was your equal; like we were just two women, rather than author and fan. And despite being flustered and fangirly, the way you treated me feel worthy – of your time and your conversation. It felt like your whole attitude was, why wouldn’t you talk to me like I am just a person, like you? That it hadn’t even occurred to you that there would, or could, be this fan/author devide. We are different, and yet we are the same. I’ve never experienced that before with an author, that I was that worthy of their time, like they wanted to talk to me, as a person, instead of talking to me because it’s nice to talk to your fans. It was so wonderful.
And so when I continued reading Becoming that night, it felt different. Still beautifully eloquent, but I could now hear your voice as I read. It felt more like a conversation, you were telling me about your life. You sharing your story now felt more personal. And I felt more emotional reading it; I had met the woman who experienced this, the woman who made it through it all.
Your letter. That’s when Becoming started to really affect me. You were writing to yourself, but it felt like you were writing to me. It shattered me. I needed to hear almost every single word of that letter. Our lives have been vastly different, but that letter could have easily been to do with my own thoughts about my life. I’m a 29-year-old virgin who has never had a boyfriend. Luck has never been on my side when it comes to romance; there have been lies in an attempt to get me into bed, to then be told he didn’t mean of it when he didn’t get what he wanted, and there have been those who just didn’t feel as strongly, or weren’t interested at all. After so long of being alone, it’s hard to believe that anyone would want to be with me. I’m either not what guys want, or my inexperience will put them off. As you say in Becoming:
“I was everybody’s second choice – or, at the very least, never a strong enough contender to be somebody’s first.” (p228)
The thought, “It’s never going to happen, you just have to accept it,” has crossed my mind so many times, but I’d force it away; despite believing it to be true, it was just too heartbreaking for me to face.
Then your book and your letter come into my life, and I found you telling me:
“Single doesn’t mean less-than. Single is whole. You are everything, now, in this moment: fully formed, a force to be reckoned with, all you need to be – and will ever need to be – in one perfect soul.” (p123)
And you told me that:
“They’re on their way. Your person. It might not be today, though – in fact, it’s probably not today, or even tomorrow – and that’s exactly how it should be. You’re not with the person of you’re life because you are the person of your life. They are extra. It will happen when it happens. But it will happen.
You can admit that life seems better as part of a two, if you want. But don’t sit and wait. You are worth a thousand more dreams than that. Continue, with full speed ahead, to be wonderful, to be you, to live, because your one? They need you to have stories. To be in full colour, already, without them, so that they can spot you in the otherwise black and white crowd.” (p124)
You said I should:
“Be the one you want to find, so that when the right mix of luck and serendipity explodes into a romance that you didn’t dare hope would look like this, they marvel at your braveness. Revel in your adventure. Laugh at your worry that you thought this might not ever happen for you.
This was always going to happen for you.” (p125)
I read your letter while in the staff room at work, and it took everything I had not to sob into the pages. You wrote it for yourself, but it was like you saw me – saw deep inside of me – made me face what I believed, and gently, happily, told me I was wrong. I felt such an indescribable relief in being told I had it wrong, that this wasn’t it, that I wouldn’t always be alone. I was forced to acknowledge the sadness I had been carrying around and ignoring for years, but also felt myself start to heal from the pain of being – and fearing I would always be – alone. I cannot even begin to thank you for how your words have helped me.
Your story is not my story, but there are tiny, little moments where out stories are similar, and through Becoming, you’ve managed to give me a different perspective. I fell in love with my best friend years ago, but he never felt the same way. I struggled along time with not feeling enough, romantically, because of it, and though I’ve worked through it, you shone a different light on the experience:
“I’d told a boy I loved him, and it hadn’t consumed me. It hadn’t worked out as I had dared hope for, but that I had hoped at all was special. That I loved myself enough to hope, and survive, and thrive was a fucking marvel.” (p284)
“I didn’t have the guy, but I had something better than that – I had me.” (P288)
Despite being ok with this all now, the power of your words shook me. They got to the very heart of how I once felt at being vulnerable and honest with my feelings, to then have them rejected. There was the memory of pain, but also a feeling of being understood. Someone knows how that felt. I’m not alone in this.
I was already inspired by and in awe of you, but Becoming has dialed the inspiration and awe up several notches. Your raw honesty in telling your story feels like a gift. I genuinely feel that you’ve honoured us, your readers, by sharing your story and how you made your way, out of heartbreak, to a place of healing, contentment, and wholeness.
I wanted to say, I’ve read about the trashy newspapers who twisted your story to make it shocking and scandalous, and it makes me so angry. They used your words, but without any of the context; they ignored your pain and your emotional state, and painted a salacious story from something glimpsed only peripherally.
That is not your story. Your story is inspiring, emotional, and one that gives hope. Your story is one that moved me, one that opened my eyes, one that made me face things within myself, and one that made me reach for the life I can have.
Becoming not only told me the story of how you overcame heartbreak, but it showed me how you have lived such an extraordinary life and have had so many adventures. You’ve inspired me to live, to get off my backside and experience all life has to offer. Becoming has made me feel I can go out and grab life by the balls, too; that I, too, can have an extrordinary life.
So thank you, Laura. Thank you for sharing your becoming, and thank you for pointing me in the right direction to continue down the path of my own becoming.
With love, and so much gratitude,
Becoming by Laura Jane Williams – After being dumped by the man she thought she was going to marry, Laura, hurt and bewildered, turned to excess in an effort to heal; misplacing her anger for one man with all men and using sex as a weapon. After one final lewd encounter Laura declared a vow of celibacy and moved to an Italian convent. Set in Paris, Rome, Detroit and Derby this is the story of her life before and her life after, the beginning and the end. Eat, Pray, Love meets Wild, BECOMING is a memoir that shows how one year can change everything, even when it seems like you’d never know yourself again. From Goodreads.
Published: 2nd June 2016
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
*I was sent a copy of Becoming by Laura Jane Williams by Hodder & Stoughton for review purposes. All opinions are my own.