Wednesday 18 April 2018

Review: Mayhem: A Memoir

Mayhem: A Memoir Mayhem: A Memoir by Sigrid Rausing
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It read like a storyline from the latest thriller. In a £70 million pound mansion in the plushest part of London, in a drug den sealed with duct tape, human remains were found covered by a tarpaulin and a couple of flat screen TVs. The staff were told not to enter the room and with the discretion that the ultra-rich demand, none thought to question the reason why, nor disobey. This wasn't a bestseller though; it was real life. The remains were the body of Eva Rausing, wife of Hans Kristian Rausing, heir to the multi-billion Tetra Pak fortune. The couple had long been addicted to Class A drugs and had often been in the newspapers with the journeys in and out of rehab. Her death of a heart problem had not been ignored by Hans, but his drug-addled state caused him to take actions that a person in normal circumstances would not have done.

Watching Hans and his Eva's lives implode was Han's sister, the editor and publisher Sigrid Rausing. She hadn't really paid attention when he first had become addicted to drugs in his twenties but saw them both relapse after being married for seven happy years. As the drug use spiralled out of control again they drifted in and out of rehab, she took to writing persuasive letters and emails trying to help them with the predicaments. This supportive help failed, but after taking advice she became the legal custodian of their four children, something that Eva strongly objected to claiming that Sigrid wanted the extra children for herself, something that she rebuts in the book.

It is a very personal and open memoir, with stories of her childhood growing up in Sweden and the small pleasures of life that she recalls in snippets. The core theme of the book though is addiction, and how an individual can become so absorbed that the neglect friends, family and themselves. She asks the question how do you help someone with an addiction? Especially if they really don't want to be helped at all, how the twelve step process does work, but after someone has relapsed and entered rehab again, it is easy to repeat the things that those running the centres want to hear, with no real commitment to their meaning or purpose. There are deeper questions too about where the line is where someone is knowing what they are doing and the point where that stops because of the addiction and mental capacity.

It is not an easy read subject wise, thankfully Rausing's sparse but beautiful writing helps makes this an essential read. She is brutally honest about her own life and the failures in helping Hans and Eva, but also now understands the limits of what she could actually do at the time. She doesn't and cannot provide the answers of where to go to get the help that people need, but does highlight how little is understood about addiction and how society can tackle the pain and anguish it causes.

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