Book review: I Never Said I Loved You
Reading about depression can seem depressing. At least, at first.
But there is something healing in seeing depression written down. Seeing the words in print, in black and white, lays bare the damage an illness that is sometimes so confusing and in the margins can cause. The time it takes from you. Often the ‘best years of your life’. It allows you to see clearly what depression can do, or has done. This gives you a good vantage point from which you can hate it, and, by doing so, slowly start to try to move away from it. Reading some of the bleaker sections of I Never Said I Loved You left me feeling strangely uplifted. I hated seeing what depression did to Rhik Samadder, and felt I could empathise with some of these effects on the mind and, something Samadder is extremely adept at discussing, the effects on the body. It allowed me to almost quantify the time it had taken from me, and it suddenly felt okay to hate something. It felt good. Here’s a quote I loved from the book. In context, it’s about something slightly different, but can definitely be read as a message to depression:
‘Everyone needs a ‘fuck this’ moment now and then. To find their personal boundaries, and learn to stand up for them.’ (108)
Samadder wrote this book, his memoir, while in his thirties – something he acknowledges is unusual. But it takes nothing from the wisdom he imparts and, in fact, I believe it improves some of the book’s important messages. The recentness of the emotions and events which happen to him means the book carries a rawness that is extra emotive. He lost his father at 27 and then had what he describes as a ‘comprehensive breakdown’. The book is framed around this breakdown, but not chronologically. Samadder revisits some of the moments from his childhood and formative years which led to the breakdown after his father’s death, the depression he endured through his late teens and twenties (and still does, though with coping mechanisms in place), and his inability to speak about these things, even with – no, especially with – the people closest to him. Though his mother is present in many incidents and plays a huge part in this book, ultimately it is about his relationship with his father. The title is a quote from a letter he wrote, posthumously, to him. It gets very dark. It is at times heart-breaking.
It’s also really, really funny once you’re past the first fifty pages, which you might think is strange for a book with themes including child abuse, eating disorders, relationships and break ups, grieving, self-harm, and the urgent need for men to speak up more. But it really is. Humour helps the reader to get through the harder-to-digest sections, and it incites a quite extreme balancing act that makes for a poignant yet highly entertaining journey through some of the lowest points in Rhik Samadder’s life. The take-home messages – of which the fact that depression might never go away but you learn to deal with it, and openly, and that men have to talk more (something he wishes, as seen through the title, he had done with his father) are two – are still stark. That Samadder can infuse these key lessons with humour only increases the reader’s faith that they are true.
If you read this book, prepare to be invigorated, prepare to shed a tear, and prepare to laugh. (Well, I guess don’t prepare to laugh since it’s probably best enjoyed when you’re not expecting it. So, prepare to either laugh or not laugh. I think I’ve done it justice there.) I highly recommend you do. It’s a life-affirming text with good narrative prose and an inspiring, slightly Matt Haig-like ending on the beauties of life.
Below are some of my other favourite quotes from I Never Said I Loved You. The top one is one of the criticisms from the public he suffered while working as a journalist at the Guardian. I want to highlight with it that this book can be hilarious. The others are about depression, turning thirty, the state of the modern world, and life in general.
‘Wish I could unlearn English so I could unread this. Shouldn’t be possible to unlearn English, but judging by this I’d be the second person to manage.’ (252)
‘Depression is a disease of philosophy – the philosophical aspect being its profound confrontation with pointlessness. The ‘why bother’ that can stop one working, or socialising, or eating. Because it’s true that there are no answers given to us as to why we should do anything. Earn money, maintain relationships, stay alive – why? An instinct for self-preservation? The drive for species reproduction? Because our parents told us to? These were big questions, uppermost in my mind.’ (55)
‘There’s a pressure to lock in achievements before you turn thirty, to have found a fulfilling job, marriage, a ladder that progressively allows you to earn more than your age. It’s arbitrary, but hard to think outside that framework.’ (242)
He goes on to say, ‘Once I’d passed thirty, it was a great relief; the way I imagine it feels to clip a pedestrian on a driving exam. Pfft, and the pressure lifts. Nothing to worry about anymore. You failed.’ (243)
‘It’s okay to change one’s mind, leave relationships and careers behind, to let things go that once meant everything. The only course to avoid is passive regret, feeling life has been done to you, or that you made the wrong choice, and must always bear the cost. There is no right path, only how you walk it.’ (223)
‘I also don’t make plans I’d rather not. Respect for my introversion is a way to be unapologetically myself, and crucial to keeping me sane. Every day, people demand your energy for their situations, and mostly do not have the right.’ (272)
Given our cities’ overpopulation and pollution and noise and fluorescent light, the abstracted threats of rent and mortgage, the internet and the global news, I think it would be strange to not have the heavy blues now and then. A sign of not paying attention, and not hoping for better.’ (275)
Talking about dark thoughts as a way of healing the wounds they cause is something I want to try to impart through my work. I’m more inspired after reading this to get my book out there and achieve publication!
P.S. One slight gripe I had with this book was an overuse of commas. (Anyone who has read it or will, please tell me if you did or didn’t feel the same – I genuinely need to know!)
As always, thank you for reading. All comments welcome.