September 30, 2019 Brian Allain

A Sense of Place

A haunting sense of place should ripple off any good memoir once the cover’s closed, and you may reopen the front again as you would a gate to another land. Anybody with crisp recall can get half decent at describing stuff with practice. Hilary Mantel explains her own confidence in her memoirs as growing from their vivid physicality: “Though me early memories are patchy, I think they are not, or not entirely confabulation, and I believe this because of their overwhelming sensory power, they come complete, not like the groping, generalized formulation of the subjects fooled by the photograph. As I say ‘I tasted,’ I taste, and as I say ‘I heard,’ I hear; I am not talking about a Proustian moment, but a Proustian cine-film.”

As they do for Mantel, the sharpest memories often give me the spooky sense of looking out from former eyeholes at a landscape decades-since gone. The old self comes back, the former face. When that transformation happens inside me, it’s almost like I only have to set down what I see.

– Mary Karr “The Art of Memoir”