Subscriber OnlyBooks

Corpsing: My Body and Other Horror Shows - sharing and caring

Sophie White’s essays are chatty, unpretentious, dark, honest, moving, topical, and safe

Corpsing: My Body and Other Horror Shows
Corpsing: My Body and Other Horror Shows
Author: Sophie White
ISBN-13: 978-1916291461
Publisher: Tramp Press
Guideline Price: €15

Corpsing: My Body and Other Horror Shows is billed as offering “uncomfortable questions about the lived reality of Irish womanhood in the 21st century, and the fear that must be swallowed in order to find your path through it”.

For its intended audience, Corpsing will prove a fantastic read. It’s a bit like reading a podcast, of which author Sophie White has two. Her tone is chatty and unpretentious, the topics highly personal (mental illness, death, motherhood, feminism, the pandemic . . .) and highly, well, topical.

We’re presented with all the touchstones we’d expect in such a collection, such as Japanese forest bathing, White’s take on attitudes to black women’s bodies, repealing the Eighth, learning self-compassion, along with many instances of standing on metaphorical precipices only to reach epiphanies.

The essays, in their darkness, their ironic jokes and their blood-and-guts honesty, will appeal enormously to millennials of White’s ilk (those who are, ideally but not exclusively, new mothers, internet-savvy, middle-class, “woke”), as well as to Gen Zers who feel a bit lonely or lost, and in need of a chummy mentor (White even refers to her readers as “pals” and “friends”).

READ MORE

White is at her most eloquent and moving when speaking of the untimely and agonising decline and death of her father, from early onset Alzheimer’s. Her idealising love for him is genuinely touching, and her recounting of the struggles she faced to feed and even to visit him in the later stages of his illness is startlingly raw – admirably so. Also, her harrowing descriptions of her own mental illness leave the reader with a sea-sickly nausea and sense of dread that they’re not likely to forget in a hurry. We’re given a real, visceral understanding of the feelings of paranoia, shame, delusion and self-loathing that come with such territory.

Of her father, White writes: “He was so widely informed that he saw absolutely no distinction between the high and the low . . . He was egalitarian in his tastes and believed that cracking the mainstream was a criminally underrated achievement and anyone who thought otherwise was an irredeemable snob. He strove for mass appeal . . .”

Mother’s love

This perhaps goes some way to explain the thrust of White’s own tone and intentions within these essays. This can be seen as a strength or a weakness, depending on the “irredeemable snobbery” of the reader. Unfortunately, alongside the desire to appeal can come fear of offence, and this too sometimes permeates the writing in Corpsing.

This is especially apparent in White’s writing about her children, whose love she doesn’t feel she deserves. One senses she is writing for their future eyes, and attempting to be both brutally honest and protective all at once. It would be difficult to find a book in which a mother’s love for her children is expressed more often.

Also, in the millennial culture of which White’s essays are a part, the sharing of one’s tribulations and weaknesses is generally considered a good thing, healthy, and is resoundingly encouraged (millennials are always goading one another to “talk”), and White is exceptionally good at sharing.

But to express an opinion that defies the conclusions deemed within that culture to be correct is unacceptable (as can be seen from the online world). Concordantly, there are no opinions expressed that could be considered surprising, left-field or “cancel”-worthy in this book. White’s stances and epiphanic breakthroughs are exactly as one would expect. She is unfailingly Twitter-right and Insta-good. (Again, this will prove wonderfully gratifying for readers who like to have their own beliefs endorsed.)

White has many valid and insightful opinions on motherhood (“Women’s liberation has stalled at the border of Mother-Land”), but can’t seem to commit fully to any of her criticisms. She’s aware of a terrible pressure and constraint on women in their “performance” of motherhood, but qualifies almost every negative statement with a caveat.

After discussing the postnatal depression she suffered after the birth of her first child, she writes: “The guilt of postnatal depression hasn’t left me yet. Of every shame I harbour, none touches the shame of how I behaved in the first year of my baby’s life.”

Feminist message

But why? This “shame” negates the feminist message she’s attempting to convey – that this depression is an unavoidable affliction for many mothers. She’s enraged by a woman saying “isn’t it heaven?” at a funeral, referring to White’s new baby, but then goes on to breathlessly reassure us that, the second time around, it truly was heaven. She campaigned for abortion, but “really there was never a ‘debate’” when she becomes pregnant with her third child, even though having it is, by her own account, highly impractical.

There are also moments when White’s privilege is uncomfortably apparent, as when she mentions suffering through the first lockdown in a house with three children and no dishwasher, compared with her friend, who lives in an apartment with one child but no garden.

White’s style of writing is highly inflected by her involvement with online culture. Her sharing in Corpsing is tantamount to confession, not dissimilar to those found on social media (although of course better-written): “I am putting these words in this precise order to turn myself in, to confess . . . I need someone to know the extent of this thing, to make it public so that if I ever need, someone will intervene.”

“Need” is, I think, the key word here, in that, to anyone not used to performing their lives in the ways required of social media-dedicatees, what comes across throughout these essays is an unnerving neediness. Along with regular references to online culture in the form of feeds, forums, WhatsApp groups and hashtags, White also writes of her other books, her demanding job and her podcasts, even dedicating Corpsing to her listeners, the “Creeps”.

It becomes uncomfortably clear that the narrator of these essays is someone who requires an audience. To an outsider, allusions to keeping up with Instagram mothers and hosting 70-person Zoom meetings sound horrific rather than simply inevitable, or fun. As White herself asks: “Performing for an audience of who? – I’m not even sure.”

Lucy Sweeney Byrne is the author of Paris Syndrome