Woman of Substances: A Journey into Addiction and Treatment (Jenny Valentish, Black Inc.)
‘Women,’ writes Jenny Valentish, ‘drink and take drugs because it’s fun. They do it to be bulletproof. To be more intimate, or more intimidating.’ For most, this use is manageable. For others—like Valentish—it is seriously problematic. In Woman of Substances, the British-born former editor and music writer relates her long history of substance abuse as a ‘series of unfortunate events’. Episodes dive sharply from the author’s childhood sexual abuse and habitual early adolescent drinking into young adult drug use and kleptomania. Finally, in her thirties—after two decades steeped in alcoholic decision-making—she tackles the unexpected travails of sobriety. Valentish doesn’t cut herself much slack in this at-times unflattering self-portrait, which fulfils the promise of a compelling literary memoir. This is territory Valentish clearly plumbed for her debut novel, Cherry Bomb, but it is no unfiltered suffering-and-redemption narrative. It is detailed, insightful and told with a feature writer’s narrative flair. Employing expert interviews and research, each rich personal episode is contextualised within the under-examined issue of women’s substance abuse. Valentish could easily have fashioned her extraordinary tale into a salacious music industry memoir. What she has given is, perhaps, less commercial but far more necessary.
Melissa Cranenburgh is a Melbourne-based writer, editor, bookseller and broadcaster