MY MOTHER, MUNCHAUSEN'S AND ME
A story of betrayal and a shocking family secret.
There was a time when I loved my mother. It's shocking to imply that I stopped loving my mum because mothers always love their children and always do their best for them. Mothers are supposed to be good. But my mother wasn't good.
Ten years ago, Helen Naylor discovered her mother, Elinor, had been faking debilitating illnesses for thirty years. After Elinor's self-induced death, Helen found her diaries, which Elinor wrote daily for over fifty years. The diaries reveal not only the inner workings of Elinor's twisted mind and self-delusion, but also shocking revelations about Helen's childhood.
Everything Helen knew about herself and her upbringing was founded on a lie. The unexplained accidents and days spent entirely on her own as a little girl, imagining herself climbing into the loft and disappearing into a different world, tell a story of neglect. As a teenager, her mother's advice to Helen on her body and mental health speaks of dangerous manipulation.
With Elinor's behaviour becoming increasingly destructive, and Helen now herself a mother, she was left with a stark choice: to collude with Elinor's lies or be accused of abandoning her.
My Mother, Munchausen's and Me is a heart-breaking, honest and brave account of a daughter unravelling the truth about her mother and herself. It's a story of a stolen childhood, mental illness, and the redemptive power of breaking a complex and toxic bond.
MY REVIEW ***
‘Elinor wasn’t reliable, but neither was I’.
When you mention Munchausen’s syndrome, most people think of Munchausen’s by proxy, particularly the sensational story of Gypsy Rose-Blanchard, a young woman whose mother persuaded her, her doctors, crowd funders, friends and family she had all kinds of physical disabilities. The truth was only discovered when Gypsy, finally snapping, killed her mother and went on the run.
Munchausen’s syndrome is a psychological disorder where a person feigns or inflicts their own illnesses to garner sympathy or attention from everyone around them. In ‘My Mother, Munchausen's and Me’, Helen Naylor talks about growing up with her mother who was (perhaps incorrectly) diagnosed with ME and then Parkinson’s disease and explores the effects this had on her childhood and later life.
The book itself is well-written and engaging, I devoured it in one sitting and couldn’t put it down, wanting to know what would happen next. Although the story is a fascinating glimpse into another person’s life, I do think it is very important to take this book with a giant pinch of salt. Although Elinor certainly seems like a hypochondriac, a narcissist and an attention seeker, she is not actually formally diagnosed with Munchausen’s syndrome. Some of her friends and family still don’t believe author Helen’s side of events and this is an automatic red flag for me. Writing a very unflattering biography of your mother is a big risk to take and it seems odd that the title makes it all about a syndrome that is not really mentioned much in the book.
As Elinor has now passed away, we get a very one-sided picture of events. Helen is painted unquestioningly as the victim - a patient daughter who only wanted to do the best for and believe her mother – even when that was painful or impacted her own life and relationships. Childhood memories seemed very specific, for example there’s entire childhood conversations with friends written up – I can barely remember conversations I had last week so I’m sure some artistic license has been taken here. I’m not saying that Helen is being deceitful with this but the diary entries from her mother which are meant to show the other side to these events are very vague and don’t actually prove anything. There’s no smoking gun of her saying ‘I didn’t like what was happening, so I pretended to have a headache’ etc – it seems very much like she believed she wasn’t well even if that wasn’t the case.
Overall ‘My Mother, Munchausen's and Me’ is a horribly fascinating story of abuse and a rare psychological disorder, it’s just a shame that it felt so one-sided in its telling. Thank you to NetGalley & Thread Book for the chance to read the ARC in exchange for an honest review.
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