Today I'm Alice is the debut novel for author Alice Jameison, and to be honest this is an incredibly difficult book to review. This is not the kind of book that everyone will be able to read, nor do I think that everyone should attempt to read it. Jameison has written, in collaboration with Clifford Thurlow, a gut level, brutally raw memoir of childhood sexual abuse detailing her later diagnosis of Multiple Personality Disorder, or Dissociative Identity Disorder and her struggles to maintain some sense of 'living'.
In her book Alice identifies somewhere between 9 and as many as 30 separate personalities; her 'alters' as she refers to them, who occupy space within her mind. There is 10-year-old JJ, six-year-old Samuel who simply wants to curl up and cry, the confident but traumatised 14-year-old Shirley, and violent and self-harming Kato, aged 16 to name a few. Each present with their own mannerisms, voices and distinct quirks and personalities, and each speak through Alice at different times, for varying reasons.
In the foreword of the book Alice says, "All through my childhood I suffered sexual, physical and emotional abuse. I told no one. This book describes how I developed 'mechanisms' to cope with the abuse as a child and how as an adult, I have struggled to lead a normal life through periods of psychosis, mental breakdowns, drug addiction and self-harm. I make no apologies for the uncompromising language and the blunt truths that need to be told."
“Throughout my childhood I developed different persona's. Each persona compartmentalised a section of the abuse, until it was time to create another personality to help with another aspect.”
Alice would often find herself in unfamiliar surrounds having no idea where she was or how she got there. She would 'lose time' and then discover random items like Lego – the favoured plaything of “alter” five-year-old Billy – with no recollection of how the toys came to be in her possession or why she had them.
Alice's childhood appeared to have all the trappings of a middle class British upbringing, but behind closed doors the unimaginable was occurring.
To be honest, I'm not going to recommend the book. I also not going to say you shouldn't read it. I think stories such as Alice's are incredibly important and necessary. I admire the her will and determination in trying to carve out any sort of existence at all. The truth is there is a lot of ugliness in this world. But for those who are victims of abuse, damaged and possibly isolated, such books may provide a starting point for dealing with their own pain. For those blessed with amazing families and supportive friends, the book may serve to open minds, debunk myths and illuminate some of the shame that still surrounds mental illness.
Alice Jamieson is now a marathon runner, qualified gym instructor and is about to undertake further studies to complete her PhD in the field of self-harm and dissociation at the University of Birmingham.
Although Today I'm Alice is not a comfortable read by any means, it is a vitally important book with a compelling story that should indeed be told.