Fragmented and Powerful Memoir: A Woman Alone by Isabel del Rio

Updated: 4 days ago

I absolutely love how varied and eclectic this blog has made my reading. Interestingly enough, memoir is the genre where I've found the most unusual books. There was memoir-as-diary from Fran Hill in Miss, What Does Incomprehensible Mean?, memoir-as-flash in The Naming of Bones by Jan Kaneen and then memoir-as-poetry in The Girl and the Goddess by Nikita Gill.

This time, I read memoir-as-fragmented narrative. In her book A Woman Alone, Isabel del Rio offers us snippets of her life in a seemingly random order. Events from childhood are juxtaposed with adulthood, scenes of civil war brush up against experiences of sexual assault and bereavement, childhood and adulthood share the same page.

As you continue through this beautifully written and intriguing tale of a most unusual life, you find yourself connecting up the threads. Shaping her life back together, finding the structure, in what has been taken apart. It makes the experience of reading it very involving and enjoyable. There are even moments when she talks directly to the reader, or reflects on the very nature of writing a memoir itself.

I wanted to find out how such an unusual style came to be, and the decisions behind the use of language (some of it is in Spanish) and the events selected. Read on to find out more.

The most striking thing about your book is the structure. We are shown fragments of your life, often with moments juxtaposed that are far in time and mood from each other. Although it feels jarring to begin with, I found that it fitted wonderfully with the themes and ideas in the book around different languages, identities and cultures. Why did you decide to structure your memoir like this?

The writer includes images of herself throughout her life, including this lovely one!

Memories are sudden bursts of images, dialogues and scenes from the past. When recalling events, your mind moves unbrokenly from one episode to another, from the present to the past and back again, with several other episodes in between. And sometimes, things that had been forgotten for years suddenly reappear, surprising you and sometimes shocking you.

What I wanted with this book was to replicate this process, creating a kind of scrapbook with memories but also with anecdotes, sketches, historical facts, quotes from those writers or artists that I admire, as well a few brief sections from my own fiction and poetry. I narrated all of this like a series of sketches that can be read easily and, what is more important, engagingly. In a way, I dramatised the text, n