Reviewed: Emma Forrest’s “Your Voice In My Head”

Posted by Emily Goldsher

Your Voice in My Head: A Memoir

By Emma Forrest

Other Press, 224 p.

I read Emma Forrest’s memoir, Your Voice In My Head, with the slight mistrust I award any Broken Young Woman memoir.  After my brief obsession with Elizabeth Wurtzel’s Prozac Nation as a teen, I just can’t take any more chances.   Beginning with The Bell Jar, I find books of this kind to feel as if they come from the same family—the way you know a peach, a plum and a nectarine are related somehow, but relish their differing flavors all the same.   Forrest’s take on mental illness, loss and general malaise has a distinct and mostly pleasant taste; embittered only by her obsessive fixation on her movie star ex-boyfriend, forever referred to as “GH.” 

Forrest’s GH (short for Gypsy Husband) remains anonymous throughout the memoir, and since I came into this not having read any of her prior work, I knew very little about her personal life.  Couple this with the fact that I read Your Voice In My Head while on a plane, and I was lucky to have the rare experience of reading a book with a secret, but not being able to snap my fingers and immediately have Google solve the mystery for me.  Once I was back in New York and safely in the company of my Internet connection, I was surprised to find that the tender, eccentric GH that Forrest spends much of the book pining for was actually bad boy actor Colin Farrell.

Your Voice In My Head is largely devoted to exploring Forrest’s relationship and breakup with GH, and can be heavy handed at certain points.  Lost love is nothing new to the genre, and there are only so many ways an author can show us a jilted woman fretting over her ex-boyfriend’s things.   Throughout the book I wanted to shake Forrest and tell her “You’re better than this guy!  There are other fish in the sea!” The discovery of GH’s true identity totally changed my tune; instead, I wanted to shake Forrest and scream “What were you thinking?”

But I’m not her mother (who seems delightful) so I have no say in who the author does or does not date.  Forrest is clearly talented when it comes to matters not related to the heart—and Your Voice In My Head is a testament to her ability to take a tired subject and inject it with nuance, vibrancy and life, if nothing else.   Near the end of the book, Forrest expounds on suicide:

“I don’t exercise every day and I don’t meditate every day, but I do think of suicide every day, as if nodding respectfully at it on my way to work.  Some days I awake with the thought of it, or am woken by it.  Other days it comes to me when I don’t get out of bed fast enough.  More rarely, it is my last thought as I drift to sleep.  I haven’t ever had the thoughts once I am out in the world.  It isn’t often reactive—it’s unusual that something happens to make me think, I should kill myself!  It’s something softer, something more like a scent.  It is my signature scent, I’ve come to wonder, and I barely notice it.” 

Another triumph is in Forrest’s structure.  The death of her longtime psychiatrist is a central event in the book, and she uses letters taken from his online memorial to frame moments from her own life.  The effect is jarring, as if we have opened someone else’s mail or eavesdropped on a private conversation, but it is also profound; Forrest is just one of the people saved by one particularly brilliant and sensitive doctor, but he is ultimately as fragile as the rest of his patients.   His death from cancer is elevated from the base to the divine, an illness woven of natural fibers starkly contrasted amongst modernity’s sea of addicts, suicides and emotional malcontents.  Forrest does well to highlight her relationship with Dr. R, and even better when showing us his impact on the lives of others.

Forrest seems to know by now that her mental illness is partially due to her inability to step outside of herself—to escape that internalized negativity and despair—which is also the pitfall of many Broken Young Woman memoirs.  Her use of voices besides her own is the tool she wields with the most grace, and is the detail that sets Your Voice In My Head apart from the dull whining of this self-involved micro-genre.

If you’re reading this Emma, know that we never liked Colin Farrell anyways.