As an often-stalled writer with only a vague idea of where I want to go, Madeline Sonik’s memoir Queasy: A Wannabe Writer’s Bumpy Journey Through England in the ‘70s spoke to me on multiple levels. While this is a slice of Sonik’s life, recalling the period she spent in England as a teenager, the lens through which Sonik looks back at this time lends a greater, wiser depth than she would have had at the time, as she regularly acknowledges throughout the book. Queasy is a set of essays, in chronological order, looking at different parts of her teenage experience in England, the directionless wandering through life she’s engaged in, and her desire to be a writer, despite the fact that she dropped out of high school in Canada and knows she needs to do something to get more education.
The teenage Sonik is endearing in a nostalgic way; I was a teenager in the 2000s so I’m coming at this from a different era, but a lot of the feelings and anger and stubbornness are timeless. Sonik was uprooted shortly after dropping out from high school, breaking up with her first boyfriend, who she’s still very much hung up on, and after her father dies. Her mother, looking to reboot her life and move on after her husband’s death, decides she needs to return to England, her birthplace, to start a new, better life, and drags Madeline and her little brother along. It’s a tumultuous time in the UK, but Madeline is mostly ignorant of what’s going on, focusing on getting a job, getting cigarettes, and dreaming of her future as a writer.
Each chapter could be read as a standalone essay, and I think this is where a lot of the power of Sonik’s story comes from. Her writing is blunt and reflective, and she is gentle with her teenage self, though not failing to point out where her gaps in knowledge or compassion exist. As an adult and professional writer, which is the viewpoint by which she looks back at this part of her life, she fills in the gaps in context to flesh out her story. I was impressed and immediately drawn in with this open acknowledgement of the things Sonik did not know at the time the events of each chapter took place, as well as her pursuit of fact-checking and research on the buildings and history of Ilfracombe, North Devon, where she ended up living before returning to Canada, an event which is alluded to but does not figure in this book.
Sonik’s reflections in Queasy are alternately generous and critical, seeking to understand herself as an adult and the formative experiences she had in Ilfracombe – immigrating, working in a hotel kitchen, as a chambermaid, and at a boarding school; and making her first steps to being a writer. This is a strikingly tender memoir, and one I recommend highly for anyone interested in form, language, and being a writer, because Sonik not only shares a compelling story, but provides a beautiful class in writing through her memories.
Madeline Sonik is an award-winning and eclectic writer, anthologist, and teacher, who lives in Victoria, British Columbia. Her books include a novel, Arms; short fiction, Drying the Bones; a children’s novel, Belinda and the Dustbunnys; two poetry collections, Stone Sightings and The Book of Changes. Her volume of personal essays, Afflictions & Departures, was nominated for the BC National Award for Canadian Non-Fiction, was a finalist for the Charles Taylor Prize, and won the 2012 City of Victoria Butler Book Prize. Her most recent book, Fontainebleau, a collection of linked short stories was published in 2020.
- Publisher : Anvil Press (May 25 2022)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 320 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1772141895
- ISBN-13 : 978-1772141894
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Alison Manley bounced around the Maritimes before landing in Miramichi, NB, where she works as a hospital librarian. She has an honours BA in political science and English from St. Francis Xavier University, and a Master of Library and Information Studies from Dalhousie University. When she's not reading biomedical research for her work, she likes reading poetry, contemporary and historical fiction, and personal essays. Noted for a love of bright colours (and lipstick), you can find her wandering the banks of the Miramichi River with a book and a paintbrush.