At twenty years of age Caro’s father was struck down by Polio. He was confined to an iron lung, his own lungs unable to perform their vital role. The doctors said he would not last more than a few days. Three years later he went on to marry the nurse that looked after him and become the father of Caro and her older brother. The saddest and most cruel part of Caro’s father’s story is that Polio was all but eliminated by vaccine when he was struck down with it. He was one of the last in Australia not to escape its deadly grasp. Believing in Karma, believing that what had happened to her father ensured that she would be safe. Caro felt bullet-proof, skating through life in what she saw as a big adventure. Caro decided to live her life for her father as well as herself, and she lived it to the hilt.
Then one day running in New York’s Central Park. Caro was pulled up short unable to keep running. She had just celebrated her forty-fourth birthday. She checked herself into hospital and she was shocked by the neurologist’s prognosis. Caro was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Her first thoughts were “Why me?”. She had lived her life well. Never afraid, taking on all challenges. Why had Karma deserted her? Caro’s words, “We’re on our own in life and fate will always deal exactly the cards it wishes, no matter the will or love of any human being.” As Llewellyn tells her story, she constantly compares her struggle with her father’s. Dipping back and forth between the past and the present. The struggles he faced and overcame so very much like her own. Her father taught her never to give in to self-pity.
Because of his illness Caro’s father was a virtual constant figure in her childhood. Most fathers would see their children in the morning before school then at the end of the day after work. So, the Polio did give Caro and her father one positive point, each other. An unbreakable bond was formed between the two and you realise how much her father and his illness forged Llewellyn into the woman she is today. The stories of Llewellyn’s early childhood are a joy to read and the writing beautifully descriptive, I love this passage, “On race days we often lay down on the grass right underneath the white wooden fence of the track’s inner border, with our ears to the ground. The rumble of hoofs pulsed through my small five-year-old body I could feel the horses through the earth long before they took the last turn onto the straight in front of the old wooden member’s stand. It was exhilarating. The thunderous sound as the horses galloped around the corner – almost upon us – the smell of horse sweat mixed with the loamy track kicked up under the horses’ hoofs, the sound of men shouting, the crack of whips on rumps, the guttural sounds of the horses stretched out at full pelt”. You could almost be excused for thinking you were there with Llewellyn and her brother. And this beautiful writing remains constant throughout the whole memoir.
I must admit that I was expecting more of the book to be about Caro’s personal struggle with multiple sclerosis and kept waiting for her story to emerge, but after awhile I found myself enjoying the memoir so much that it didn’t matter. Caro’s own life and struggle with multiple sclerosis only plays a tiny role at the end of the book and at times it seems that this memoir is more about the father than Caro. As with fiction and non-fiction, memoirs must be enjoyable to read, and this one is. Llewellyn’s writing is exquisite and descriptive. At times it is hard to put the book down because Llewellyn knows how to spin a great yarn. Llewellyn is a born storyteller, gifted with that intangible ability to turn an everyday memory into an interesting anecdote. An extremely enjoyable read. 4 Stars.
Caro Llewellyn is the author of three previous works of nonfiction. She is the former director of several large-scale literary festivals and cultural events. She has hosted writers from every corner of the globe, including a number of Nobel Prize winners, and presented events at the Sydney Opera House, London’s Southbank, the Louvre, and New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, Town Hall, 92Y and historic Cooper Union. Diving Into Glass is her first work of autobiography.
A wonderful podcast from the ABC can be listened to here - https://www.abc.net.au/radio/programs/conversations/caro-llewellyn/10851980