Laura's Reviews > Mayhem

Mayhem by Sigrid Rausing
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really liked it

Sigrid Rausing's Mayhem focuses on an incident that seems to have been relatively widely reported in the press, especially in Sweden, although I had heard nothing about it before beginning to read her memoir. The body of Rausing's brother Hans's wife, Eva, was found in their London flat in 2012. It was clear that Eva had already been dead for a number of weeks, and that the cause of her death was crack, which disrupted the workings of her pacemaker and stopped her already damaged heart. Both Eva and Hans had struggled with drug addiction for years, and Sigrid took over the care of their four children after the couple's latest relapse. Mayhem, a deliberately fragmentary and, in Rausing's words, unfinished, text tries to make some sense of what happened to Eva and Hans.

Mayhem was obviously a very difficult book to write. Rausing recognises the risk she is taking in writing about issues that have so profoundly affected her family, most obviously the lives of her four foster children. However - and fairly enough, in my opinion - she makes the case that Eva and Hans's story has already been so extensively covered by the press that her book will add little to public knowledge of the facts of the case while hopefully setting parts of the record straight. One of the saddest bits of Mayhem is when Rausing simply lists some of the press headlines that deal with her family story in reverse order, illustrating the seemingly inescapable spiral of addiction. However, elsewhere in her memoir, she worries at some cliches about drug addicts, trying to take a look at the science behind addiction and illustrating how partial and biased our knowledge of the condition still is. I found much of this material very familiar, but it's an effective summary for those who have read nothing about the topic.

Mayhem didn't quite work for me, in part, because of necessary restrictions on the text. I fully respect Rausing's decision to protect the privacy of her family as far as possible. However, because of this, much of the text feels rather distant from the story at its heart, with clinical accounts filling in the gaps. If this had been fiction, I would have wanted to know much more about how Rausing coped with suddenly having to take on the care of four children (increasing the size of her family from three to seven) and the difficult court battles around that decision, when Rausing was bizarrely accused of simply wanting more children for herself. I obviously understand why the book says little about this, but I was left questioning whether there was enough left to make a memoir. 3.5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher for review as part of the Wellcome Book Prize shadow panel.
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Reading Progress

April 13, 2018 – Started Reading
April 13, 2018 – Shelved
April 20, 2018 – Finished Reading

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