Saturday, January 25, 2020

Constellations: Reflections from Life by Sinéad Gleeson

This is kind of like a darker, more depressing version of Diane Ackerman's A NATURAL HISTORY OF THE SENSES. In this memoir, Sinéad writes about not just her body, but about women's bodies in general, on a wide variety of difficult and sometimes controversial topics. Some examples include the many surgeries she had when she was younger for her atrophying leg and fused hip; her experiences with leukemia and the resulting chemotherapy that made her hair fall out; blood transfusions, which segues into talks about being HIV+ (she isn't, but she writes about those who are); childbirth, and the way people treat women's pregnant bodies, and the judgement many women face for the choices they make on how-- and when-- to give birth; and also pain, and the way that women's concerns and experiences with pain can be minimized and delegitimized, even by doctors.

One of the things I really liked about this memoir is how Sinéad Gleeson ties so many of these topics back to art. In the HIV+/transfusion section, she talks about the New York Artist Barton Lidice Beneš, and the work he did with his own blood. In the segments about living with pain, she talks about Frida Kahlo and the many ways that she incorporated her own chronic pain into her art. A big part of Irish culture is the arts, and I loved the way that paintings, poems, and songs were incorporated into her essays about the body.

I do think that this collection of essays will be difficult for some people to read because of the detail she goes into on certain subjects. I'm particularly squeamish and there were some sections that were really difficult to read, like the portions about her chest surgery, anything about needles, and the essays on blood. At times, it's so graphic, it feels almost like body horror-- but maybe that's the point. So many aspects of the human body are deemed inappropriate, almost pornographic, when really, it is just about our bodies struggling to work. Just look at how anything having to do with menstruation tends to be censored; we, as a society, are incredibly prudish about our bodies' functions (or inability to function).

All in all, I really enjoyed CONSTELLATIONS and I think it made me think about a lot of topics that I don't ordinarily let myself dwell on. It won't be an easy read for many-- it wasn't for me-- but if you're able to make your way through it, it's a thoughtful collection of writings on the human body.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 

3 to 3.5 out of 5 stars

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