Mayhem: A Memoir

Sigrid Rausing

Mayhem: A Memoir
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Mayhem: A Memoir

Sigrid Rausing

A searingly powerful memoir about the impact of addiction on a family.

In the summer of 2012 a woman named Eva was found dead in the London townhouse she shared with her husband, Hans K. Rausing. The couple had struggled with drug addiction for years, often under the glare of tabloid headlines. Now, writing with singular clarity and restraint  the editor and publisher Sigrid Rausing, tries to make sense of what happened to her brother and his wife.

In Mayhem, she asks the difficult questions those close to the world of addiction must face. ‘Who can help the addict, consumed by a shaming hunger, a need beyond control? There is no medicine: the drugs are the medicine.

And who can help their families, so implicated in the self-destruction of the addict? Who can help when the very notion of 'help’ becomes synonymous with an exercise of power; a familial police state; an end to freedom, in the addict’s mind?‘

'This is a fierce, lyrical, and lucid memoir that asks agonizing questions about guilt, innocence, and judgment and reminds us how difficult it can be to untangle one from the other’ Siri Hustvedt

Review

Sigrid Rausing is the editor (and owner) of Granta. Her grandfather built the Tetrapak global packaging empire. An heir to the resulting fortune, Rausing’s first memory is the smell and alienation of being driven in a chauffeured car, aged four. Mayhem is a layered, emotionally conflicted yet ultimately loving memoir that explores addiction from the perspective of family members.

Her brother Hans met his wife Eva, an American socialite, in rehab. They sobered up, married, had four children. On New Year’s Eve 1999, they unwittingly edged into relapse with a champagne toast to the new millennium. Their return to full-fledged addiction was discovered when Eva was caught with crack in her handbag at an American embassy cocktail party. For the next 12 years, the family’s private hell (including Sigrid taking custody of the couple’s children) was paralleled in tabloid headlines, culminating in Eva’s two-months-dead body being found beneath a pile of mattresses and televisions in the squalid bedroom of their £7.5 million mansion.

In making sense of her experience, Rausing is also trying to solve the riddle of addiction, which she traces to an essential ‘emotional deficiency’. But she doesn’t simplify it – on the contrary, her careful, coruscating reflections draw on psychoanalytic theory, the infamous marshmallow test, Joan Didion, Edie Sedgwick and Andy Warhol, and the Fall of Eden. Fascinatingly, it’s also a reflection on privilege, ‘what it means and what it doesn’t mean’. She meditates on their 1960s upbringing, and its ‘fine line between neglect and freedom’, while asserting that her brother was loved. Endorsed by cerebral literary heavyweights like Siri Hustvedt and Andrew Solomon, Mayhem is about more than one life or one family: it’s a complex diagnosis of addiction itself.


Jo Case is the editor of Readings Monthly and a bookseller at Readings Doncaster.

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