Truth-telling: a passage to survival in Doris Brett's "Eating the Underworld. A Memoir in Three Voices".
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Doris Brett is a poet, writer and psychotherapist whose 2001 book, "Eating the Underworld. A Memoir in Three Voices", tells three concurrent stories about survival. The author survives ovarian cancer and its return; she is the daughter of Holocaust survivors whose experiences are the background to her own childhood; and she describes herself as a survivor of childhood sibling abuse. The three stories have subterranean links which Brett uncovers in ways that raise ethical and psychological questions of great complexity. Layers of understanding about family and memory are knitted together through three different narrative strategies: poetry, journal writing and fairy tales. The result is as complex as a Fair Isle sweater. This multifaceted effort at truth-telling becomes Brett's passage to survival; through the processes of negotiating and narrating she constructs an identity that enables her to make sense of her life. Brett's first story in "Eating the Underworld" is the intimately personal one of her physical and emotional experience of ovarian cancer, and its recurrence, which covers a period of several years. Her second narrative is motivated by and is a response to the writings of her sister Lily Brett. Lily, herself a well-established poet, short story writer and essayist, has written extensively as the child of Holocaust survivors. Readers of "Eating the Underworld" have no way to adjudicate between the two sisters' versions of their mother, but in choosing to write memoir rather than fiction, Doris has implicitly entered into a ‘pact’ with her readers. What part can fairy tales possibly play in such 'will to truth'? Do fairy tales lie outside any autobiographical pact in Doris's memoir? If so, why has she included them and why does she give the very last words in the book to her fairy tale characters? What kind of narrative trust can include the use of fairy tales and how are readers expected to relate them to the journal and poetry sections of "Eating the Underworld"?