This is Not a Pity Memoir Abi Morgan John Murray, €15.99
Abi Morgan was at a dinner party in 2000 and in the course of conversation, someone asked her what she did. Hesitantly (this was before she won Emmys and Baftas), she said she was a writer.
A writer of what, the other guest asked, and Abi explained how she wanted to adapt the late Ruth Picardie’s brilliant memoir about her cancer, Before I Say Goodbye. The response was swift and disparaging. “I hate those f**king pity memoirs.”
It was a memorable party as it was also the night Morgan met the man who would become her partner and father of her two children, Jacob Krichefski. Five dates later they moved in together.
Over the following 20 years her star ascended. She scripted The Iron Lady, Suffragette, Shame
and her most recent success, the BBC’s fabulous series The Split. Through it all, Jacob, a successful actor, was at her side. He was warm, laconic, football-crazy and an adoring father, the kind of man who was planning 50 things for her to do on her fiftieth.
They appeared to have it all – two beautiful children, a large house in North London, a holiday home in Puglia, lots of loving family and friends.
The Ruth Picardie project never happened but when Morgan turned to writing her own memoir she opted to call it This is Not a Pity Memoir. Given the events around which it centres it could easily have been.
However, Morgan has a transcendent ability to write about devastating things in a way that manages to be pithy and self deprecating, yet also lyrical and reflective.
It starts with Jacob’s sudden deterioration in June 2018; he had been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis seven years earlier but medication stabilised his condition. Then came the fateful day of his collapse, followed by hospitalisation and an onslaught of seizures, during which the Jacob she knew disappeared and a hysterical, abusive, writhing stranger emerged.
He had endless tests, scans and MRIs, before he was put into an induced coma from which he didn’t emerge for six months. The joy Abi experienced when he finally awoke was short-lived. He did not recognise her as his partner and actively shunned her. One devastating conversation goes as follows:
Jacob – “I don’t know how you are doing it, how you are convincing everyone you are Mabel and Jesse’s mother, but I know you are not who you say you are... why do you have such an interest in my children?’
Abi –“They are nice children.”
Jacob – “Do you like them for something else?” Then it dawns on me.
“Sexually?” I proffer. He nods.
The book is addressed to Jacob and it charts their relationship but she doesn’t idealise their love story and talks about how they had gone to counselling.
It’s the story of her struggles as a writer, her struggles with his illness. It’s about how boring serious illness can be, how disgusting it can be, how hopeless at times. She even admits to briefly entertaining the idea of suicide.
It’s also something of a detective story as the medics try to find the reason behind his rare condition, called Capgras Syndrome.
And inevitably there is the day when she fantasises that this whole story will make a terrific, nay, award-winning, play, starring no less an actor than Olivia Colman as Morgan herself. “Eventually I calm down my fame-hungry whore and put her back in her box.”
A pity memoir? No. An engrossing, enlightening, even entertaining, multi-layered one? Very definitely yes.