Gavin McCrea Cells: memories for my mother


Code 9781914484049
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'Are you going into town today?' she says, which annoys me because it's something she says all the time, having forgotten she said it before, and I say, 'Jesus, Mum, not this again,' and she says, 'What again?' and I say, 'Town is shut down,' and while she can see I am upset and wants not to upset me like this, she is also wounded by my tone, and I am ashamed then and can only look at my plate, and I decide not to bring up what I intended to bring up, about the past, and about my need for her to apologise for it.

Gavin is spending the quarantine in a small flat in south Dublin with his eighty-year-old mother, whose mind is slowly slipping away. He has lived most of his adult life abroad and has returned home to care for her and to write a novel. But he finds that all he can write about is her.

Moving through a sequence of remembered rooms - the 'cells' - Gavin unspools an intimate story of his upbringing and early adulthood: feeling out of place in the insular suburb in which he grew up, the homophobic bullying he suffered at school, his brother's mental illness and drug addiction, his father's sudden death, his own devastating diagnosis, his struggles and triumphs as a writer, and above all, always, his relationship with his mother. Her brightness shines a light over his childhood, but her betrayal of his teenage self leads to years of resentment and disconnection. Now, he must find a way to reconcile with her, before it is too late.

Written with unusual frankness and urgency, Cells is at once an uncovering of filial love and its limits, and a coming to terms with separation and loss.

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'Using the fine brushstrokes of his relationship with his mother, Gavin McCrea creates a remarkable self-portrait which becomes, then, a portrait of our times. This memoir will comfortably sit alongside other great Irish memoirs of recent decades, not least the work of Nuala O'Faolain, Hugo Hamilton, and John McGahern. This is a brave book, beautifully written, fearless, vulnerable, self-aware, honest, and not without moments of intimate levity. McCrea is prepared to express his rage at how the world has unfurled around him, but he does so with delicacy and love and a daring sense of invention.'
- Colum McCann, author of Apeirogon

'A brave, raw, visceral memoir told with such acuity, insight, and compassion, I could barely put it down. Gavin McCrea's unflinching mapping of his family's struggles, his own journey towards individuation and self-realisation, as well as his deep, conflicted love for his mother, is beautifully rendered, painful, and real. A stunning, memorable read.'
- Lisa Harding, author of Bright Burning Things

'This is a book that brims with stored-up pain - and with a very particular kind of courage. For all its dark and sometimes brutal honesty, what the reader is going to remember here is the way that McCrea's prose fights on through his hurt to bring home pages that seem lit from within by love and beauty. A memoir that is as rewarding as it is undoubtedly challenging.'
- Neil Bartlett, author of Ready To Catch Him Should He Fall and Address Book

'Cells is a compulsive tidal force of a book: detailed, vulnerable, and brave, it pulled me in swiftly and held me to the very end.'
- Sean Hewitt, author of All Down Darkness Wide

'Reading Cells, I was struck by McCrea's generosity in interrogating personal histories as they relate to wider familial and social systems. Contemplating devotion and loss with revolutionary sensitivity, what results is a stunning work of emotion-mapping. Cells is a dazzling exploration of nuance; pondering the formative threads that piece together the self, sewing a new lineage of interconnectedness towards acceptance.'
- Peter Scalpello, author of Limbic


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