Start by acknowledging that it was not a good idea.
I thought I could be selective, and even skipped a whole chapter, but there was just so much I should have left out.
I often put the book down with a heavy sigh, but then picked it up again the next night.
To be fair, not everyone will have that reaction. A book’s impact has a lot to do with the individual circumstances of the reader. Don’t judge this book by my reaction.
But if you’re a middle-aged single white female sociologist living in Australia, you might want to give it a miss.
What of its title?
It was clear throughout the book that Summers’ did not live an unfettered life; she just pushed against the constraints a lot harder than most and did not always succeed.
If she feels unfettered in her 70s, that’s worth celebrating. But it is a claim she can only make if she is well-prepared for the reality of being an old(er) woman in Australia. And she is not technically single, having been in a supportive and loving de facto relationship for many years.
There were bits worth noting
I found the Canberra-based sections quite interesting, having spent three decades there and most of those in the public sector.
But then, reading on, I discovered that so much of her positive work was unraveled and wound back by the tendency of Australians to vote into power too many old white conservative men.
It’s hard to measure the gains that remain against the long-term losses. In which way are the scales tipped … and how far?
The negative is never far away
This is the fundamental flaw of the book. Any attempt to be positive is thwarted. I tried to include something here I thought interesting, only to find myself replicating the despondent counterpoint of her drama.
I must remind myself that my education was possible because these women, just a decade older than me, put in the effort to change the world. No amount of subsequent push-back by unhappy males can take that education away from me.
The only moment …
… I’ve ever felt truly unfettered:
I’d not long finished another temp job, this time with enough in the bank to pay the rent for a few weeks. Heading out for a walk, I left my hair down. Not a common practice, particularly when out walking.
I reached the first intersection. As I emerged from the protection of the corner house, the west wind went through me. It was as if I was not there.
The reason was immediately clear, making the now cherished, oft cherished, moment even more fleeting.
I had no connection to anything, no concerns, no worries … no apparent future or need of one … just for that particular moment … without bounds.
Looking for balance?
I suspect it is tricky to write a memoir that carries the intellectual weight of its author, that demonstrates her resilience but avoids being too uplifting because that could risk bookstore categorisation, denigration, as self-help or how-to. Perhaps not something Geoffrey Robertson had to worry about.
I’m just so very annoyed at myself for persevering with it, yet very aware there lies within some valuable insight. I keep telling myself to re-read the last chapter. Not sure why.
Summers, Anne. 2018. Unfettered and Alive. Allen and Unwin.