Rise review: Not nearly as remarkable a book as it should be
Gina Miller’s work simply doesn’t know what kind of book it is, or what it’s trying to be
With her Brexit case, Gina Miller proved that women like her were still capable of openly challenging authority. Photograph: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall & Leading the Way
In 2016, Gina Miller brought a case against a British government that was attempting to trigger Article 50 without a parliamentary vote. In January 2017, the Supreme Court agreed that the move would be unconstitutional, and Gina Miller won her case. It was history making. Here was a private citizen – a woman of colour, a former model, an entrepreneur, a domestic abuse survivor, a mother – who had never held any kind of political authority, nor had any real role as a public figure, and she had just beat the system in broad daylight. She didn’t stop Brexit. But she did prove that women like her were still capable of openly challenging authority, and she did it in one of the most fraught socio-political environments since the election of the first Labour government in 1924.
Taking all that into account, a book deal seems inevitable. With Rise: Life Lessons in Speaking Out, Standing Tall & Leading The Way, Miller recounts her unbelievable journey, dealing with not only the Supreme Court case itself but the violently misogynistic and racist treatment she was subjected to after the fact. We learn about her childhood in Guyana, her parents (her father Doodnauth Singh was the attorney general of Guyana, portrayed in the book as a kind of Atticus Finch to Miller’s Scout), her struggles as a single mother with a special needs daughter, and her eventual fleeing her abusive second marriage only to spend weeks living in her car. There is no question that Miller has led a remarkable life, and that she’s a remarkable person because of it. It’s just a shame, however, that Rise is not nearly as remarkable a book as it should be.
What’s even more frustrating about this is that the ingredients are all there. Rise is co-authored by Elizabeth Day, a brilliant journalist and novelist in her own right, but the prose feels clunky and mechanical, often drifting into cliche or anecdotes that run on for a page too long. Miller has the memoirist’s habit of including just a few too many stories where she is the hero. She describes herself as an eminently fair child, giving her sweets and toys away to less fortunate children in her neighbourhood. She always acts nobly. She goes out of her way to befriend the people she doesn’t understand. She can’t quite help giving us detailed descriptions of her own marvellous qualities, often throwing in a few that completely jar with the chapter. Lines like “I limit my children’s screen-time, so they’re only allowed it at weekends” are thrown in completely at random, making you wonder whether you’re reading a book about a woman who challenged the democratic process or overhearing a conversation at Waitrose.
And this, really, is the main problem: Rise simply doesn’t know what kind of book it is, or what it’s trying to be. At times, it feels like a self-help manual: a guide for women attempting to speak up in a world that won’t listen to them. Elsewhere, it feels as if Miller is trying to ape the current trend for activism within memoir, following the Roxane Gay and Caitlin Moran technique of using their own life experiences to shine light on structural inequality. Then, you get the juicy political tell-all: moments after Miller is accused by former Sunday Times editor Andrew Neil that she has turned “tinkering in the democratic process into a rich woman’s hobby”, Neil announces that he is jetting off to the south of France. “You utter hypocrite!” Miller muses.
Not enough nuance
Unfortunately, Rise isn’t enough of any of these things. The self-help side needs more practical advice; the activist-memoir attempts to blend statistics with experience, with not enough nuance to bridge the two; the tell-all doesn’t have enough gossip, chiefly because Miller herself is too much of an outsider from the political process to really have any.
Without a doubt, the book is at its best the more furious Miller allows herself to become. In a chapter titled “Skin and Silence”, she investigates Britain’s racism epidemic, using herself as a potent case study. “Wounds are being re-opened. Racism is attaching itself like a virus to the weaknesses in our societal body,” she writes, comparing the uplift in hate crime after the Brexit referendum to the death threats she continues to receive daily. Astoundingly, Miller never seems truly driven off course by the ongoing abuse she suffers, and it’s incredible how her instinct to speak out has remained intact over the last two years. Here is where Rise is at its most inspirational, and while the book itself might not be a future classic, Miller is certainly someone Britain needs in its future.
Caroline O’Donoghue is the author of “Promising Young Women”