Author: Anna Pottier
Publisher: Dundurn Press
Publication Date: March 14, 2015
Synopsis from Goodreads:
While a student at Dalhousie University, Anna Pottier attended a poetry reading featuring Irving Layton. Walking out of the auditorium that night, she knew two things: she wanted more than ever to be a writer, and she wanted to be with Layton. At the age of 23 she became Layton’s fifth and final wife; she was 48 years his junior. She shared the entirety of his world and was intimately involved in the writing and publication of such books as The Gucci Bag, Fortunate Exile, and Waiting For the Messiah. She accompanied Layton on his last major overseas reading tour, broke bread with Pierre Trudeau and Leonard Cohen, met other luminaries, and watched Layton write his very last poem. But slowly, Layton was changing. In 1992, a doctor put names to these changes: Parkinson’s disease and early-stage Alzheimer’s. Life carried on, but once-easy things grew harder and harder, and then the day came in 1995, after nearly 14 years, when Pottier had nothing left to give.
This is the first non-fiction that I’ve read in a while. Anna Pottier writes her own autobiography of the rise and decline of her romance with Canadian poet, Irving Layton. They lived a whirlwind life of literary genius and devoted love, but this life ended in sorrow with the development of Irving’s Parkinson’s and early-stage Alzheimer’s. Even a passionate love faces incredibly strain in the face of illness.
Anna’s life is an interesting one. She faces intense struggles with her family back out on the east coast, and she never quite feels accepted by Irving’s children. She becomes his muse, his support, his caregiver, his lover. She struggles with her own literary career, creating writing in fits and starts before turning her devotion to Irving.
I gave this memoir 4 out of 5 stars on Goodreads because I was really hoping for it to have more of a focus on Irving. Anna is very interesting in her life and her struggles, but I kind of feel–and this may be harsh–that her struggles with weight and family and friendship are no different than those faced by ordinary people, but her story becomes interesting because of her relationship with Irving. Her struggles are similarly faced by many people, and they’re difficult, but I wasn’t quite sure why I was reading about hers in particular, other than Irving is there to help her through. I thought we’d be getting a much more in depth analysis of Irving the man from the woman who knew him so intimately. After reading it, I feel like I don’t really know his personality at all. We did get to know him a bit, but Anna’s own personal experiences, loves, losses, and anxieties really trumped Irving’s personalities. We learn that he is supportive, and that he wrote all the time, and that when they travelled he liked to explore, but I never really got a sense for who he was.
Now, I still really enjoyed the book and it is 4 stars for me. Anna’s writing is easy to slide into and she’s extremely thorough and detailed. She paints a beautiful and vivid picture of her life. I would still recommend it because it’s a great perspective on the life of a literary lover told by a woman who stepped into a life that she never even dreamed of. She enters a world of artistry and talent, but discovers that this world has it’s pitfalls. She matures from a girl into a loving and strong woman and has unimaginable experiences.
It’s an enjoyable read. I recommend it to anyone looking for a light, but interesting non-fiction.