My Autobiography of Carson McCullers by Jenn Shapland - review by Sara Wheeler

Sara Wheeler

Queen of Hearts

My Autobiography of Carson McCullers


Virago 288pp £16.99

Carson McCullers (1917–67) grew up in Columbus, Georgia, lived mainly in New York and wrote dazzling stories about misfits in the American South. The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (1940) made her famous at the age of twenty-three. She married the same violent man twice and, as Jenn Shapland several times notes, a straight narrative has usually framed her lesbian existence.

This book, the young author’s first and already a finalist for America’s National Book Award, weaves together biography and memoir. It is a slight work artfully organised into eighty chapters, some less than a page long. The format mimics the fragmentary nature of memory and identity, central concepts throughout.

Shards of the author’s own life glitter amid the story of McCullers’s triumphs and struggles, notably the agony of coming out as queer during ‘the major, slow-burning catastrophe of my twenties’. Shapland was an angry young woman: ‘The dishwasher was full of roaches. The roaches were judging me.’ She learned

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