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Review: The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward

PICTURED: Poet, model and author Yrsa Daley-Ward (Photo credit: Evening Standard

THE TERRIBLE is the second book by poet and performer Yrsa Daley-Ward. The memoir chronicles her life through childhood, teens and early twenties, as she deals with family conflict, developing sexuality and struggles with mental health.

"The terrible", as Yrsa Daley-Ward describes it, is a combination and culmination of many things in life  —  depression, death, grieving, addiction, pain. All of which play prominent roles in her new genre-bending book. But that is not all. Written in prose, The Terrible, much like many of Daley-Ward’s poems, takes these darker and murkier aspects of life and places them side by side with the bright and colourful, which drip into our lives and create the happy interludes in our existence.

We begin with a child’s overactive imagination, and are quickly taken in by this perspective, and so never again question anything the young Yrsa has to say. The honesty is at times unbearable, like a mirror first thing in the morning, but necessary to understand who Yrsa is. With books of this nature you can find yourself angry at the narrator, questioning their motivations and can end up struggling to emphasise with their circumstances. But this is not where we find ourselves with The Terrible. Instead, we dance, dream, drink, get high and feel low. We’re hanging, and then float into a frozen world of melting women and icy men.


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Of the many relationships we’re allowed to experience, it’s the female ones that appear fully formed and radiate the most heat. I think this is the point, and so we’re quickly made aware of Yrsa’s love and passion for women, a passion and love that goes deeper than physical attraction. This is not to say that the men are not written well; they’re written too well. And so the inability to love without wanting to possess – a trait generally exhibited by males – glares at you as you read, and you recognise the fracture that stops many relationships becoming something truly whole.

But there is one exception: Yrsa’s relationship with her brother, Roo. As I read, I couldn’t help remembering Maya Angelou’s I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, where Angelou’s relationship with her brother is one of the most enduring things about the text. And this can also be said of The Terrible, which starts with a young Roo and Yrsa seeing what no adult can see, and ends with the two connecting again with the same enduring vision.

The Terrible by Yrsa Daley-Ward is out now.

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