Published in 2002, Mairi MacInnes’s memoir Clearances delivers just the right amount of life. Her stylistic approach of moving between the past and the present with conversational ease makes the work not only fascinating but interesting. Just as if I were sitting with her, she tells of one event which spurs the next event which leads to yet another, but all the time moving seamlessly from one time in her life to the other. The movement, both natural and effective, creates a bank of recollections unlike any I’ve read in another memoirs.
Something brazenly honest in her revelations of her lonely childhood, her desire to attend Oxford, her service and loss of innocence during World War II when she worked as a driver in the Women’s Royal Navy Service, her various jobs, her marriage to an American and the nomadic life she set up with him in Berlin, Mexico City, and Mast Landing, Maine, all contribute to the fascinating and complicated life that she led.
A poet in her own right [I’m not familiar with her work], MacInnes peppers her memories with Francis Bacon, Elizabeth Bishop, Shakespeare, William Blake, and Wallace Stevens, the latter being one of her favorites. What a delight to read how she wove these great writers in with her memories.
I love this quote she uses from Elizabeth Bishop: “Life and the memory of it so compressed they’ve turned into each other.”