Educated, Tara Westover

I’d seen this memoir around a lot; it’s one of those books that, wherever you look at the moment, it seems to be there, but, although I’d seen it everywhere, I knew nothing whatsoever about it, apart from it was about a girl who grew up with no formal education. I was intrigued enough to download it, but when I started reading it, I wondered if I’d made a mistake. I wasn’t sure if I was going to enjoy it at all. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘misery memoir’ and have tended to steer clear of them (do you remember when Sue Townsend satirised them in the Adrian Mole books? If I recall correctly, his mum, Pauline Mole, was writing one entitled A Girl Called “Shit”? That used to make me howl with laughter…). I don’t want to be miserable; I don’t want to read about real-life misery, particularly if it’s relentless. So, I have avoided the genre. But, I’m supposed to be reading memoirs of all sorts and detailing all sorts of lives, and this book intrigued me enough to read on … even once I knew exactly how miserable the set up of Tara’s life was.

Tara Westover was raised in a Mormon family in Idaho – a family of, quite frankly, crazy survivalists, who were off grid, anti-government, anti-medical intervention (which considering how many accidents they had was particularly crazy) and (again, quite frankly) abusive (that brother…. bloody hell!) Tara is not allowed to go to school. She has no birth certificate. She is forced to work in the family’s highly dangerous junk yard. Her life is grim, dangerous, grubby, scary, bigoted, and devoid of any chance to thrive. Yet somehow, against the odds, Tara does just that (although the path to a meaningful life, free of her family, is very difficult indeed) and ends up with the very best education of all, studying at Cambridge University. The story of how she gets there is truly amazing.

This book made me angry and sad. I was appalled at times, flinching at others – sometimes I wanted to put the book down and flounce off, to go and eat cake, have a hot chocolate and read a rom com; to immerse myself in loveliness and walk away from Educated‘s gritty reality and unpleasantness. I wanted to wash my hands of it, like Tara did of the grime after another day in the junkyard. But still I read on. Partly, because this book is beautifully written… if Tara Westover writes any fiction, I’ll be first in line to read it. But mostly because of the hope threaded throughout this narrative, even though it is a hope that is dangled, at times, then whipped away again; a hope Tara often extinguishes herself by her sometimes exasperating drive to keep going back home even though it’s the worst possible place for her: that house, that family, that mountain…

This is a compelling story of triumph against adversity. The triumph and the hope in this book are hard won and eloquently detailed and they come at a price, for both the writer and the reader: Tara continues to be estranged from several members of her family; I’ll be haunted in a tender but bleak way by this book for quite a long time – it has given me the most complicated book hangover. But I loved it. It’s magnificent. Everyone should read it.

Right, I’m going to read something light now. I’m going to read The Tent, The Bucket and Me by Emma Kennedy, about hilarious camping holidays in the 1970s. This may be accompanied by cake and hot chocolate…

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