Catherine Simpson – When I Had a Little Sister (4 stars)

Catherine Simpson – When I Had a Little Sister

Edinburgh-based author's memoir is a tender portrait of the past

In December 2013, Catherine Simpson received the phone call she had long been dreading: her sister had taken her own life. For years Tricia suffered from depression and paranoia, leaving her increasingly alienated from her family and the outside world. When her diaries were discovered later, a tantalising glimpse of her voice appears. It took Simpson years to be able to face reading them and search for the cause of her sister's pain.

The result of Edinburgh-based author Simpson's agonising inquiry is this memoir, a deep dive into the repercussions of her family's inability to meaningfully communicate with one another. Simpson reconstructs a complicated portrait of the past with tenderness and unsparing detail, one in which their domineering mother looms large.

This eye for detail does at times threaten to derail the narrative, as she veers off into anecdotes about pets, ancestors and holidays that sometimes feel tangential. Yet her impulse to immortalise such memories is understandable, especially when it becomes clear that for Simpson, forgetting means losing a piece of her sister again. In its excavation of the past, When I Had a Little Sister is both an act of personal catharsis and an important rejection of the silence that still surrounds mental illness today.

Out Thu 7 Feb via 4th Estate.

When I had A Little Sister: An Evening with Catherine Simpson

Catherine Simpson discusses her memoir When I Had a Little Sister.