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Number 9: Winter 2013

The Long Vacation: A Memoir by Rosemary Dinnage

Nic Bayley

It is the small details of observation or comment that make this book a worthwhile and memorable read.  For instance, Dinnage met Kafka’s lover in London one day when flat hunting, but didn’t take the room as it was too dirty. She had a mad analyst (before her therapy with Winnicott) and tells how he had said to her that she was having affairs that she was keeping secret from him.  ‘Affairs?  I believed myself to be quite old, quite finished, totally unattractive.  I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, I couldn’t believe it either when he said I had been rifling through his private life in some way. And yet I couldn’t think that this intelligent professional man had gone mad.’  So, in a muddle, that analysis ended.  It sometimes seems that for Dinnage, reading was almost her most efficacious therapy.  She writes:  ‘Reading The Divided Self  [by R.D. Laing] I had the relief, like so many readers, of disentangling some of the current ideas of “real” and “self” – an abyss of mystification that had frightened me was mapped out.’ She found herself at one time very weighed down by reviewing books on Freud but was taken out to lunch by Paul Roazen and flattered into continuing. Roazen mentioned Helene Deutsch.  ‘”Oh yes – wasn’t there a biography of her?”  [Dinnage replied].  Roazen countered:  ‘Yes, I wrote it and you reviewed it.”‘  A constant but never over-played theme of the book – the long vacation of the title – recurs as the ‘black gulf’, the coldness of the maternal greeting on her return from Canada (‘My mother had sent off one parcel, a child in socks, and got back a different one, in bra and one-inch heels’), the terror in mid-life (‘Behind everything, the terror is going on: as though just behind a screen people are screaming silently and hurled off cliffs and cut by sharp swords into pieces’).  It is no surprise that it was Dinnage who Winnicott quoted in Playing and Reality as saying to him, ‘Reality is more important than comfort.’

Worthwhile for its many witty and acute observations, this book is above all a fascinating account of the struggle to stay alive – in that word’s fullest, most Winnicottian sense – despite everything.