The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

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“Life is a drama full of tragedy and comedy. You should learn to enjoy the comic episodes a little more.” 

 

I’ve always thought that memoirs read very much like an autobiography; key moments of a person’s life typed out in chronological order that combine to give a factual insight into a person. The Glass Castle is anything but an ordinary memoir; it’s a harrowing fairy tale that has been weaved marvellously by Jeannette Walls to piece together a tumultuous life full of despair, adventure and a strange kind of magic.

In the beginning, they live on the road, sleeping under the stars, searching for gold in caves and unbound from any specific place. The life sounds romantic and the children (Lori, Brian, Jeanette and Maureen) are spellbound by their imaginative father who makes living on the road seem like an adventure and teaches them geology and gifts them stars for Christmas. Their mother is an artist and a free spirit who disdains at the chains of responsibility and calls herself an “excitement addict”. But as the children grow older and the money runs out, the glittering fantasy is broken.

This was so hard and frustrating to read at times as the Walls children suffer because of their fanciful parents. Rex Wallis was unable to hold down jobs and whittled away any money they had on alcohol while Rose Mary blamed her children for the state of her life (they often have to physically force her to go into work). Often the children were hungry; they’d forage in the school garbage, picking out the throwaways of other children’s lunches. They were frequently cold as they slept through winter in a dilapidated house without any heating and there were scenes of sexual abuse that left me shaking.

Yet, Jeannette describes all of this without much judgement. She describes a family, who are bound by unconditional love, despite what has happened and who tried to live a life full of adventure and heart. I called this a fairy tale at the beginning because like any fairy tale that follows the classic tropes, there’s a “happily ever after” with the children escaping to the bright lights and opportunities of New York through sheer hard work and perseverance.

The Glass Castle was a fantasy that Rex always swore he would build, but never got further then digging the foundations. But Jeannette ended up building it herself – this book is Jeannette Walls’ Glass Castle.

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