‘This Ragged Grace’: a memoir that shakes off its generic constraints

As Octavia Bright seeks recovery, her father sinks into Alzheimer’s. Their entwined stories are shapely and moving
June 14, 2023
This Ragged Grace: A Memoir of Recovery and Renewal
Octavia Bright (RRP: £16.99)
Buy on Bookshop.org
Buy on Bookshop.org

“I walked so hard and so fast in the winter of 2013 that I wore right through a pair of red Doc Martens.” This, the opening line of writer and broadcaster Octavia Bright’s memoir, echoes a host of recent first-person confessionals, the writing of which has become something of a rite of passage for so many young literary women. 

Bright herself is aware of the pitfalls. She talks about what drives the urge to unburden oneself—whether exhibitionism or a bid for intimacy—and how such stories are received; all too often as “a silver coin in the confessional economy that thrives on tales of feminine dysfunction.” 

I, too, was wary, reading the first few chapters a tad suspiciously. But once some of the more generic elements of the genre had been dealt with—the inevitable ruminative interlude on a beautiful Italian island; the wake-up call that forced her to finally quit drinking; the brief sojourn in New York, where she finds solace in the work of Louise Bourgeois; and the struggle of beginning again, “vibrat[ing] with the raw hungry energy of the newly sober,” back home in London—the book deepens in both content and tone. 

In 2016, when she’s three years sober, Bright’s father is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Henceforth, the narrative of her recovery is entwined with that of his descent into the disease. “Every story you tell about yourself is an attempt to organise the messy experience of living,” she writes early on, but Alzheimer’s makes things untidier than usual, its victims “liv[ing] outside of narrative” itself.

It’s all the more impressive, then, that Bright transforms her and her father’s story into something not just shapely and solid, but beautiful and moving, too.