2016-12-15 / Faith Community

Memoir Speaks to Irretrievable Loss

By James Merolla

“I put the letter down and poured myself a whiskey. Even when I was most determined to find Grace, or at least to learn her story, I always felt that there was a danger I might discover too much. Wasn’t it better to let a mysterious and unhappy past lie undisturbed?” An excerpt from “Darling Baby Mine,” pg. 157.

John de St. Jorre’s gripping new book, “Darling Baby Mine,” is a detailed masterpiece of consciousness and conscience.

The author – a recovering Catholic, former Oxford grad, military man, spy, foreign correspondent for a major London paper, and a late-in-life father – weaves an engrossing memoir that is a detective story with a dash of spy novel, although no fiction could match his dogged saga.

De St. Jorre writes of the first four decades of his varied and often dangerous existence, when his father and stepmother – emotionally stilted people who cared more about propriety than the truth – hid the existence of his mother.

The story – a beautifully crafted, searing scrapbook of breathtaking loss, brief triumphs, resurrections, but no insurrections – is virtually impossible to put down.

There are no villains here – just flawed people overwhelmed by shame and an inability to cope with conditions that hinted of mounting danger. They were ill equipped to comprehend, fell victim to, or covered up the woefully primitive and brutal science of mental health treatment in England in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s.

The author’s mother suffered with post-partum depression soon after the birth of his younger brother

Maurice and was shuttled into unspeakable institutionalization, electric shock treatments, a partial lobotomy, and shifting stays in mental hospitals, leaving a trail that only a former military spy could decipher and document flawlessly.

The book speaks of irretrievable loss – how impossible it is to articulate maternal connection and how impossible it is not to; how deep the chasm is for a mother who loses a son, and equally gaping for a son who loses his mother.

In de St. Jorre’s hands, the characters are impeccably woven and shaped, especially Olive, his mother’s “ducky” sister, the glue who held her up until her child could discover her.

The book is a compelling read, and I cannot recommend it highly enough. My great wish is that it was as therapeutically cathartic for its writer as it was to this reader.

“Darling Baby Mine,” by Newport’s John de St. Jorre, is available at Amazon.com and wherever books are sold.

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