Shy: A Memoir by Sian Prior
As a well-known journalist, broadcaster, teacher and singer who has spent most of her career in the spotlight, it seems quite strange that Sian Prior’s first book should be all about her shyness. Perhaps more remarkable is that Prior’s discussion of what it means to be shy should be explored through memoir, a medium that, for the most part, requires the author to reveal detailed information about their life and open their private, personal world to the public.
But this isn’t an ordinary memoir. To begin, the contents page reads like a stream of consciousness, spooling down the page: ‘But Why’, ‘What If’, ‘The Boys’, ‘Mistaken Identity’, ‘Mirror Mirror’. The book is split into two parts, with over 30 sections in the first and 16 in the second. This unusual fragmented structure allows for Prior to explore the complexity of shyness through a range of prose, from funny, short reflections in ‘What’s That?’, where she discusses the disconnect between listener and speaker, to interviews with psychologists, personal stories of social anxiety and the devastation of a broken relationship, and childhood memories of loss and longing.
This creative multiplicity is best put to use when Prior splits herself into ‘Shy Sian’ and ‘Professional Sian’ during her interviews with her mother, Professor Margot Prior. The interesting dynamic between professional/mother and journalist/daughter allows for a blurred duality of psychological theory anchored to a shared personal history. At the end of their discussion, Professor Prior remarks on how proud she is of her daughter’s public admission of shyness: ‘In your professional life, nobody would ever dream you were shy.’ Prior’s memoir is about acknowledging this slippage between the public and private: what is hidden, what we don’t reveal. Shy is a fascinating and engaging read.
Felicity Ford is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.