Jan 21, 2017

Book Review - Nobody by Threasa Meads

Available from Booktopia
The subtitle for this work is A Liminal Autobiography.

1. relating to a transitional or initial stage of a process.
2. occupying a position at, or on both sides of, a boundary or     threshold.

Nobody is a recollection of Meads' early life (until her mid teens), which told in perhaps a more straightforward biographical fashion, would present a an unflinching narrative of growing up in a culture of layered trauma and abuse.

What Meads does though, is present this period of her life in choose-your-own-adventure format.

For those unfamiliar with game-books of the 1980's that used this template; the narrative is written from a second-person point of view, with the reader assuming the role of the protagonist (Meads) and making choices that determine the main character's actions and the plot's outcome.

This may seem an odd choice for an autobiographic narrative but I found it extremely powerful.  In a traditional/linear narrative the reader is positioned more as a voyeur.  For sure, we can develop empathy with the author but there is a certain distance and barrier, a glass pane that we can sit safely behind.

The second person point of view and the ability to steer the narrative (while still a construct) pushes us, the reader, towards that barrier and at times perhaps through it, hence the categorisation of the narrative as Liminal.

As per the narrative structure, the reader is given at certain junctures or nodes the opportunity to steer the narrative towards a "better" ending, though it's not always obvious what decision will lead to a better ending.

This, I think, is one of the strengths of the format, particularly in its handling of the reality of abuse or trauma.  The reality is when you are in these situations, the right decision isn't always obvious, indeed there may be no right or safe decision.

I think the template forces us from the position of outsider to understand this briefly from the authors' point of view.  It's not an author telling us they didn't know what to do but rather the reader having to experience that uncertainty or indecision.

The second strength of the format was that the choice offered, forced me to confront why I was reading, why I was continuing to read.  Do I read on simply because I wan't to find out what happens?  Do I read on because I feel that I owe it to the author's story to participate in understanding their life? Do I choose a branch that ends the tale early because I feel uncomfortable?

I didn't find Nobody an easy read because of the questions it forced me to confront, because it forced me to participate more than I usually would in a non-fiction narrative.  While I hesitate to say you must read this, because it is a tale of trauma,  I think it important that you do particularly if you have an interest in Biography/Autobiography or want to explore what it means to be a reader.

Reading it was a profound experience.


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