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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Gavron’s ‘A Woman on the Edge of Time’ tells two stories in one

Jeremy Gavron’s memoir “A Woman on the Edge of Time” gives the reader deep insight into the inner psyche of both Gavron and his mother. Hannah Gavron committed suicide at 29-years-old despite living a relatively charmed life. Gavron explores the complex ups and downs of her story with startling intensity. As the writer searches for his mother’s motivation in instigating her own death, he also explores the implications that this knowledge has had on his past and will have on his future.

Gavron reveals early on in the text that he did not know that his mother’s death was a suicide until he turned 16, and even then it took years for him to be able to grapple with her death. When Gavron’s brother dies, he reexamines his mother’s death: a suicide wrapped in enigma. As a wife, mother of two and published author at the time of her death, Hannah’s suicide seems at first glance to have no logical motivation. However, as Gavron analyzes her life more closely, corresponding with his mother’s old friends, family and teachers, he learns that there was far more at stake in Hannah’s life than he first realized.

Hannah’s story is an undoubtedly engaging one, laced with daring mishaps, rebellious streaks and many sexual encounters. Much of the first half of the memoir is dedicated to Gavron’s telling of this story, allowing the son to capture the multifaceted nature of his mother’s character. Hannah addresses the complex nature of her own personality herself in letters she wrote to a school friend, which Gavron quotes throughout the text.

Hannah writes, “One of the teachers said to me — deep inside you Hannah, you have a kind, sincere nature and you have a great deal to give, but on top of that there is a protective layer of hardness, selfishness and pride, and that is holding back what lies underneath.”

This ambiguity makes the first half of the memoir so engaging. In the second half of the memoir, Gavron addresses the motivations behind Hannah’s unexpected suicide, examining factors ranging from her extramarital affairs, to her feelings of suffocation as a young mother, to the misogyny she faced in the academic world every day as a feminist in the 1960s. This part of the text is far murkier than earlier sections, mirroring the confusing nature of the subject matter.

Gavron puts it best when he explains that there is no one explanation for Hannah’s death — such an assumption belies the very principle of suicide. But the many complex interactions examined as possible causes of Hannah’s death still present a compelling narrative tract for the remainder of the memoir.

Gavron’s responses to the new information he discovers about his mother’s suicide make up the most engaging parts of the text. Early on, he acknowledges the painfulness of the process.

“I am her son,” Gavron writes, “and children never stop wanting their parents’ love, never lose their ability to be hurt by them.”

Ultimately, the journey of examining the nature of his mother’s suicide proves therapeutic for Gavron, for he learns to love the family member he was never fortunate enough to know.

“I discover, too,” Gavron writes, “that I like her. She could be solipsistic, bossy, dismissive of others, but there is also an openness, a naturalness...that warms me to her.”

While the memoir may become a bit dry at times, giving detailed explanations of various factors in Hannah’s death, Gavron’s profound emotional response to all the information he learns makes this text a worthwhile and engaging read. The intertwining nature of the respective stories of a son and a mother are enough to keep any interested reader turning the page. While there is no real resolution to the conflict present in either story, there is certainly beauty in the journey taken by Gavron to uncover his history in a way that will profoundly influence his future.

Gavron is the author of two nonfiction books and three novels, including the winner of the Encore Award “The Book of Israel.” This memoir, “A Woman on the Edge of Time,” was published in 2016 to critical acclaim.

Rating: 8/10