A Stinging Delight: Memoir of misery with moments of joy

David Storey addresses book to twin who died in womb and maps toll it took on his life

English playwright, screenwriter, novelist and rugby league player David Storey  teaches actors to play rugby in 1971. Photograph:  Jack Kay/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty

English playwright, screenwriter, novelist and rugby league player David Storey teaches actors to play rugby in 1971. Photograph: Jack Kay/Daily Express/Hulton Archive/Getty

“Death”, wrote Saul Bellow, “is the dark backing a mirror needs before we can see anything.” For the English novelist and playwright David Storey, death wasn’t just the mirror’s backing but the mirror itself, as well as the windows, the curtains, the wallpaper and cushion covers. I can’t necessarily recommend his memoir, which he hesitated to publish during his profoundly troubled life. But I will certainly never forget it.

The book takes the form of a message addressed to his older brother, who died when Storey was still in the womb, a cataclysm that the author believes left him “constitutionally damaged”. His mother was traumatised, despairing and, through the womb wall, he believes, he was permanently altered. “My life had been spent,” he says, “at the centre of this process, placed there at the biological moment when the central nervous system had come on tap. I ‘became’ death the moment I ‘entered’ life, the one registering as the other.”

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